Peter Wrenleau (Wale) interview
Peter Wrenleau (Wale) released an amazing LP in 1972. Years passed until the album was found again and today Strawberry Rain are preparing a very special edition that will contain 14 songs (there were only 4 tracks on original LP). This is an amazing album coming from South Africa which is a conglomerate of psychedelia, prog and folk with flute and loads of fuzz guitar. The recordings are from final concert Peter gave before getting on a yacht heading towards new adventures. Great compositions and wonderful slice of time and space. Read the whole story and join the adventure!
Where and when did you grow up? Was music a big part of your family life? Did the local music scene influence you or inspire you to play music?
You know, a lot of people might say that I never really grew up, although I did, of course, grow older with the passing of the years. It’s still a journey of daily discoveries and growth for me, always trying out new things. The external manifestation of a man with a grey beard, has not extinguished the child which served as the basis for the man. Both exist as options, depending on what is appropriate in the moment. Nevertheless, I get the point of the question and will stick to the facts expected.
I began my earthly life in late November, in 1948, in Cape Town, South Africa, which at that time was a city of only modest size. I was a quintessential post World War II baby, born to parents rather more caught up in the general euphoria of the time than they should’ve been. My dad had survived both the campaign against Rommel in North Africa and the liberation of Italy from the Fascists and the Nazis. Luck just HAD to be on his side. What could possibly go wrong? My dad was the returning hero, a super athlete of good family stock and very ambitious. My mother was a vivacious, 19 year old package of artsy bohemian fun. Unfortunately, for them, Mother Nature was right there too, quietly riding along in the back seat, and resolutely intent on replacing the lost of the War with new replacements and, before they really had time to think about it, well, there I was – a gurgling, guzzling, nappy-soiling, bawling bundle of ambivalence, not exactly welcome, certainly not convenient, undeniably part of the Wale family, for better or for worse. What my mother wanted was a career in the theatre, not a baby, sucking on her tit. Thank God for the colored family cook, Louie van Schalkwyk. She didn’t have designs on stardom ; I was the star in her limited universe. She doted on me and when I was two, saved my life after I fell in the garden pond and nearly drowned. My mother pulled me out and, finding me unresponsive, screamed, “Oh my God! He’s dead!” and promptly fainted. Louie rushed out of the house, grabbed me, got the water out of my lungs and restarted my breathing. I got pneumonia, but survived. Of course, I don’t remember any of this, but it’s what I’ve been told. Maybe the hypoxia damaged my brain. Some would say, definitely! Though I turned out to be academically adept, I was constantly reproached, or teased, for being slow.
The earliest clear recollection I have of my natural mother is her waving from the deck of the mail boat as it set sail for England. On the quay were Louie, my three year old self, and my one year old sister in a stroller. My father was notably absent. The year was 1951. I would not see her again until 1971. The year that followed, the family was my father, two tots and Louie, the family cook, at the dinner table together. It was a bit of a rough start for my sister and me, but we didn’t see it that way because we had nothing to compare it to. Actually, having Louie as my stand-in mum was just fine by me and if I’d been in charge of things, I’d just as soon have kept it that way. Of course, my dad needed a wife and, in due course, he found one – my stepmother.
Based on his connection to family status and family wealth, my father was a premium catch for my stepmother who, for reasons I was never told, had moved away from Bulawayo in Southern Rhodesia and come down to Cape Town. I was the downside of the deal. Some women see every child as a gift from God. Well, I was a child, no doubt, but I was also anything but a gift from God to my stepmother. An unavoidable inconvenience would be more like it.
Whatever it was about me that got on her nerves, I can’t really say. All I know is that at her insistence, during the school year, I was confined to living in two boarding schools for nine of my initial 18 years on the planet and the reasons had nothing to do with academic advantage. The first school was Western Province Preparatory School, only a mile from my home. The second was St. Andrew’s College, 600 miles away, in Grahamstown. Achievement, rather than enrichment, was the primary ethos behind how both schools were run. Slackers and miscreants were beaten with canes. There was no privacy to speak of. Weird sexual behavior included not just the adolescent boys but masters, as well. Then again, when you first encounter it, sex itself, is weird, and generally open to a lot of ad hoc improvisation. So what’s new about weird sex experiences? People have been weird that way for ever. If you doubt me, read the Bible. Talk about weird! In fact, it’s not normal to grow up and never have any weird sex experiences. That kind of weird is normal. So it wasn’t that side of things that left a shadow inside me. It was the relentless reliance on various forms of physical violence to achieve results and the absolute absence of adult affection that really stuck it to me.
So it’s somewhat ironic to have to admit that though I do not celebrate having lost so much of my childhood potential to those institutions, I’m still very much a product of them. Pain is not a reason to give in, or give up. Positive feedback is not necessary for the continued output of effort, even if the score is not in your favor. Hunger is simply the amplification of the potential for the enjoyment of the ultimate sating of it. Etcetera, etcetera. You get the picture, no doubt.
A little bit of that ethos is a good thing. but when it becomes all-consuming, you become a kind of Quixotic figure, tilting at windmills, unable (in the words of the great Kenny Rogers) to know when to fold your cards. The Don Quixotis of our time are, in many respects, those who aspire to succeed in some facet of the arts, instead of, say, getting a steady day job. The double irony of this is that my parents, in sending me to these achievement obsessed schools, so that I could become a successful professional of some sort, actually contributed to what it would take to keep me plugging away at making my mark in the music world.
No doubt, you’ll be happy to hear that there were other, more enjoyable sides to growing up, mostly experienced during the school holiday parts of it.
I absolutely loved going fishing, whether it was 20 miles off Cape Point, in search of tuna, in my father’s game fishing boat, up some lonely stream in the Hottentots Holland range, catching trout, sitting in a rowboat on Zeekoevlei, waiting for carp to take the bait, or out on the estuary of the Breede River fishing for one of a dozen different species. Just being out there with the water, normally in the company of a friend, filled my cup.
The area around Cape Town is fringed by a range of mountains that rise to an average maximum of around 6,000 feet – just enough to capture the moisture of the winds that blow off the ocean, while leaving some for the hinterlands beyond known as the Great Karoo – a vast region of semi-arid scrublands. In these mountainous regions two rivers arise with enough flow to host annual kayak competitions – the Breede and the Berg . The Berg flows north- northwest and the Breede flows southeast. In my teens, I canoed both. For diversity of geographic condition, the Breede stands head-and-shoulders above the Berg along those stretches before tidal reaches are encountered. The hill-bounded estuary of the Breede River is a wonderland of life. It is there that I recall making some of the fondest memories of my pre-adult life. There was a guest house there that had rondavels to rent where my parents liked to vacation. You could rent these wooden boats with a little outboard motor and go fishing anywhere along a fifteen mile stretch of the estuary. Once, my stepmother caught an eighty pound kobeljou. Mostly, it was smaller fish. That was then, when I was little more than a pale reflection of what I felt my father wanted me to be. Today, I would never take such a fish out of the water. Some little thing for the pan that evening, yes; but such a fish – a prime adult that had come up there to breed – for no greater reason than to boast about it? Absolutely not! There aren’t words to describe the feeling of being out there on that vast estuary, alone with the wind, the water and the weather. It opened up doors within me that allowed me to grow beyond just being a half-baked reiteration of my father.
Having completed high school, I was obliged to undergo military training. The threat of a pan-African invasion from the north was very real during the years that Apartheid was the order of the land. Insurgents were already probing the northern border.
After the schools I went to, life in the South African Army was a definite step up. It was hard, but it was also a lot more straightforward. If you performed well, and had potential, you would be promoted. Who your parents were cozy with, was utterly immaterial. What they were looking for was simple – physical and mental toughness and smarts. Proficiency with weapons was just icing on the cake. I must have fit the bill, because I was one of only two in my intake to be selected to train the fellows in the next intake of trainees. It was a role I took too well, and the guys I was responsible for liked me. As much as I demanded out of them, I readily commended them for anything well done. The skills of leadership that I learned in the army lent themselves well to heading up a band of musicians.
When I arrived back in Cape Town after basic training in the army, I was neither and adult, nor a boy. It was expected of me that I would attend university and, having secured a degree, become employed in some firm or other. In high school, I had been top of the class for the whole of my final year. The natural expectation, therefore, was that university would be a breeze for me. It didn’t turn out like that. The way the university winnowed down the first year complement of students was to first weed out the slow. We might as well have been attending a stenography training class. Lectures on this and that we’re casually flung at us, with no attempt to really engage, for which lofty offering, we we’re expected to take copious notes, at break-neck speed and then regurgitate the facts in tests given at select intervals during the year. It’s an absurd way to render instruction to those who have paid dearly to be thusly underserved, but hey, it certainly worked to pare down the ranks and shore up the notion that those with degrees are so few in number that companies have to pay big bucks to secure their services.
My right thumb had been smashed at the first joint in field hockey, back in high school. Today, more than fifty years later, it is still misshapen. Back then, writing was sheer agony, but I could function as long as I went rather slowly in manageable bouts. It didn’t take long for me to see where this was going. First came the anxiety, manifesting in the form of horrendous migraines that would leave me prostrate in a dark room for more than a full day at a time, missing lectures. Then I started failing the tests. It was all about the writing, and the writing was on the wall. I would flunk unless I could take notes at the required speed.
I didn’t really want to be an engineer anyway, sitting in some office, day after precious day. What I really wanted was to be a great songwriter. I couldn’t see how you could be a job-holding civil engineer and a working creator of musical content, at the same time. Maybe it’s possible but, at the time, I was strongly motivated to take the plunge into something I could put my heart into and so I chose music, gratefully leaving the lecture halls droning on in my wake.
“I made the right choice for the being that lived inside me.”
My parents hated me for it, but I think it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Sure, there were hard times to follow, with respect to money, but think about it: if I’d become a civil engineer – even a rich, successful one, like my cousin, Anton – would you be in any way, interested in what I have to say? Most likely not. Would I be living with this lovely, winsome, earth-centered, American woman, out here in wide-open country in the mountains, tending our giant garden, still making music and looking eagerly forward to bigger and better as a songwriter, among other enterprises? Would a search on Google feature (a version of) me on the first page? Most likely not. Enough said. I made the right choice for the being that lived inside me.
I don’t say this flippantly. Following my own path in life caused me to be unjustly struck from consideration in my father’s will, which sat very badly with me. Not only did I feel incredibly demeaned in the process that unfolded after his death, denied any and all information about facts, or what occurred with his remains or the family homes, but it cost me dearly in terms of the inheritance that I, as his only (and non-offending) son had a right to by birth. Ah well, as I said before, I was only ever an inconvenience to my parents. In the end, with their final act, spared the discomfort of having to say it to my face, they let Nedbank, their wealth management company and estate executor, say it for them.
Having disappointed my parents with my decision to flunk out of UCT, I couldn’t reconcile myself to the thought of continuing to live in the same house as them, which was very much THEIR house and not mine, in any sense. It was time for me to make my own way in the world. I moved out, never to return.
That leaves the part about whether my parents helped my musical development in any way. The answer is that they helped a lot in the early years while we were in our first house on Bertha Avenue, near the Liesbeck River – mostly in providing a music-friendly environment in the only place in all my life that ever ranked as a true home for me. There was a grand piano in the sunken lounge, with windows looking out over the garden toward the eastern buttresses of the Table Mountain massif. My father would play quite difficult pieces on this piano, and when my grandfather came to visit, he would play even more advanced material of a classical nature. For the eldest boy to be schooled in music on the piano was a customary family responsibility that I took to quite well. In the memoir I am writing, I explain the ups and downs of that process. One excellent motivator for me was that my primary school had a music prize, which I quested for and ultimately won.
In those early years, in the smaller home, we were a better family and music played a big role in our lives together. Doubtless, under pressure from my stepmother, who was relentlessly class ambitious, my father undertook to build a new, larger house near the crest of Wynberg Hill, on a lot next to the residence of the American ambassador (my father was the honorary consul for Mexico before Mexico broke with South Africa over the issue of apartheid). Having a second house built was a reach too far, even for him. The pressures placed on him by a multiplicity of responsibilities caused him to become overwrought, which my stepmother sought to address by concocting a subterfuge with the family doctor that ended with him receiving electroshock therapy. The process effectively fried the delicate neuro-circuitry by which the intuitive functions of consciousness influence decision making and emotions in response to realities and potentials encountered. No longer would subtle extraneous influences be allowed to meddle in whatever had to be done. This may have helped them get what they wanted, but it also cut the means whereby the future dimensional self works at the very roots of consciousness to incline emotion toward some objectives and away from others.
In hindsight, I see how what was going on with him was trying to dissuade him from building that new house, because the future self knew that doing so would cause the bonds of family joy to whither away and the paternal side our family line to end.
Apparently, toward the end of my father’s life, playing the piano became a bigger part of his daily routine, even as his mind began to fail, as if he were being moved to reconnect with where things once stood, before the fateful house move.
“Life is a dance, not a march.”
The lesson here is that it is never a good thing to suppress your intuitive side in an attempt to secure some objective you’ve set your sights on. Stay fluid. Life is a dance, not a march. And keep the music coming, because it’s the nutrition that feeds the structures in your consciousness by which your higher self communicates priceless advice to your mundane self.
When did you begin playing music? What was your first instrument? Who were your major influences?
I first started playing music when I started using a musical instrument that people who are not body-centered sometimes tend to overlook as an instrument. I think I was 5, at the time; before I went to preparatory school. No, it wasn’t the piano and it certainly wasn’t the guitar. It was the voice.
Our household not only had a cook, but a maid, as well. Actually, during the course of my very young life, we had several maids. Besides helping with the house chores, their job was to take care of my younger sister and me and see that we didn’t get into some kind of trouble (like falling into the pool, for instance). These maids were all young, colored women – no older than 20. The one who sticks in my mind was called Ethel. I can still see her face. It was round and she had freckles. At that time, the song, “Hey There”, sung by Rosemary Clooney , was a huge hit in South Africa. With encouragement from Ethel, I learned to sing that song. That was my first foray into making music. Though Ethel never got paid a dime for services as a music tutor to me, she did, in fact, lay the cornerstone of what would become my ability to make music.
Later – I can’t remember exactly what age I was, maybe 8 – I commenced taking piano lessons at Western Province Preparatory School, while I was still a day scholar, with the legendary Katie Maritz. Miss Maritz tutored many exceptional pianists in her long career at WPPS (Wet Pups). She was indefatigably patient with her students, even the ones that had hardly any native talent, at all. Every student mattered. The goal, from her point of view, was to induce in each of her students an enthusiasm for whatever level of classical music they could handle. In this quest, she had a formidable ally among the staff – the equally legendary Miss St. Hill, our English teacher, who – though she was diminutive in physical stature – loved the arts with a huge heart and had a voice that could drown out a whole choir (in perfect tune, I should add). I loved studying the piano with Miss Maritz, and I loved studying English literature under Miss St. Hill. Put the two together and you have the makings of an incipient songwriter.
There was another music teacher at Wet Pups, more like a choirmaster – a man whose name, I’m ashamed to say, I can’t remember – who taught us much in the way of songs from the canon of traditional British music. These had survived the test of time as songs that could be sung by present company in everything from pubs to palaces, as a way of stoking the fires of fraternity. It was a joyous aspect of being at that school, (even as a boarder, banished from my home, just down the street). That those who ran the school thought it important enough to preserve the art of group sing-alongs indicates how strong the cultural imprint of colonial times under British rule was at the time.
“What I’m tasked with doing is to think like a listener, to get into the collective mind of those who find themselves resonating in sympathy with what I write.”
With respect to influences that might have affected how I developed as a songwriter, you can credit Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Mozart as being among the earliest on the classical side. But there were more modern influences, as well. My parents would often play music from modern American shows. In particular, I remember learning to sing all the music from the following: My Fair Lady, Gigi, West Side Story, The Sound of Music. The work of Gilbert and Sullivan also played a big role. I tend to like music that moves at a nice pace from one feeling to another, before I get bored. How brilliant the execution of it happens to be really doesn’t interest me. The world is full of virtuosos, quick to put their videos up on YouTube, as if to say, “Here, beat this!”, which is fine if you’re looking for a novelty moment. I will never be one of those people. That’s not my destiny, or my proper role. What I’m tasked with doing is to think like a listener, to get into the collective mind of those who find themselves resonating in sympathy with what I write. It’s not MY music that I try to coax into being; it’s OURS, already living inside us, waiting ever to find form as something we can take in through our ears. When we hear it, we can feel it coursing, without resistance, through the inner world of our being, hitting all the sweet spots, as it goes, and leaving us feeling a little bit more alive.
Many of those sweet spots were formed by our earliest listening experiences – experiences we shared in common with millions of other people, all around the world. As a group, we share subtle proclivities toward liking this or that kind of song or treatment, regardless of genre. What I’m trying to do is find the right pathway through the jungle of the business side of music so I can deliver my contribution to those who inhabit the same proclivity world as I do.
Part of that challenge involves correctly interpreting the vibrations of that group in the creative and performance aspects of rendering a finished master tape or sound file. The greater part of the challenge lies in subsequently connecting with people in the business side of this field who don’t just have the same taste proclivities, but also have sufficient clout to bring the music to the attention of those who are already inwardly primed to welcome it into their lives.
In summation, I think it’s important to note that I don’t consciously strive to incorporate elements of the music I was raised hearing into the music I write. I write what I hear in my mind while I’m working on a song, that’s it. Just how those early listening experiences tie into how I go about composing isn’t something that I care to dig into too deeply. It would be like eviscerating myself to find out how my stomach worked. I just accept that there’s something in there that is going about its business, and I’m grateful that, so far, it hasn’t let me down.
You were the leader of the band called Wakeford Hart.
“In the meantime, the band that a few friends and I had started informally began to show promise. Through a friend, I met Allan Faull, who was really good at blues guitar. We clicked together and soon joined up with Patrick Humphreys on drums, Phil Page on electric bass and Phil’s girlfriend Dee French singing backup vocals.
One thing I needed to reflect on so that I could recall it for the purposes of this bio is where we practiced our songs. A band has to practice. In that reflection, I realize how much I depended on Patrick and his wife, Roni for making that possible. They had rented an old farm cottage out in the Hout Bay valley, which they made available to us for getting the band together and working on the material. By some process I can’t remember, though I have a great picture of it, there was a piano to play there – another improbable, but essential asset. This happy collection of elements gave rise to the notion that we might be able to organize an outdoor concert somewhere nearby.
Bands need to have names. It’s always a head-scratcher trying to find just the right name for a band. It needs to evoke a tug of interest in the one who hears it and a feeling of existential fact in the one who says it. Also, it helps to have a good logo. First off, I didn’t want anything that started with “The”. That was too old school for me. I wanted the name to suggest that the band was like a personal friend you could say something to, and get an answer from. Also, I wanted it to be a little bit mysterious; suggestive of something amazing, though not in a declarative or definitive way. Though some bands choose names that associate them with some famous precedent, I didn’t want that. It had to be its own precedent; the first vocalization of some ineffable, eternal concept – something approximating an incantation. In the end, I settled on Wakeford Hart and I guess that choice was a pretty good one, because it has endured the test of time and remains relevant as a memory for those who embraced it back then, though the music has not been played for forty-six years.”
I’d like to add a few words about becoming the leader of the band, Wakeford Hart. There are all kinds of leader. As has been said before, some are born to lead. Others are trained to lead. Some are inspirational. Others are controlling. For me, it was all about just getting things done and giving a voice to the music that was in me and wanted out.
The obvious question is, what gave me the confidence to rise to the challenge of leadership? The answer is relatively simple. It was the trust placed in me by my superiors in the South African Army when they tapped me to be one of only two instructors for the next intake of trainees – a role that I took to naturally and enjoyed. Thank you, guys!
Now this was somewhat ironic. Back in the days of Wet Pups and St. Andrew’s College, I had been totally passed over for consideration as a monitor or prefect in either school, despite a formidable academic record and despite having earned what is referred to in St. Andrew’s as a proficiency tie, plus a Rhodes scholarship commendation. For those who aren’t familiar with the terms, monitor and prefect, these are boys who are given a level of authority in the school that allows them to help retain order and general discipline among the other boys. Apparently, among the staff of both institutions, I was not considered leadership material. At the time, that judgment hurt. Today, having run a company for twelve years and captained my own ship for forty and more, all I can say is, oh well, water under the bridge; shows how much they knew. Just don’t bother to invite me to the the jubilee class reunion.
What influenced the band’s sound?
You know, we really didn’t have the musical chops to copy the playing styles of musicians who were popular at the time and have it come off sounding great. Here we were, in a country with only one official radio station – the South African Broadcasting Corporation – and the only material close to what we wanted to play was the imported hits from the USA and Britain. The situation suited the only record distributor of size in the nation, Teal Records (where I worked for a few months). It meant not having to carry an extensive inventory, with a considerable fraction of titles either selling slowly, or simply not selling ever, along with the tidy advantage of linking the hit parade activity on the SABC with the need to move product. It was a cozy relationship, to be sure.
This process of optimizing sales for Teal demanded they stick to product put out by the best exponents of pop music in the world. We knew that if we played songs that everybody else had heard the best versions of, we might come off looking rather lame. There was another way that we felt had a chance of success; with luck, we could reverse the existing market paradigm by making some kind of original material that could go out to the world if it made a big enough splash within the country. We wouldn’t be the first to do it – Four Jacks and a Jill had already gone global with the hit, “Master Jack”, written by David Marks, so we knew it could be done.
“I’d take anything that lent itself to making me feel good when I heard it and that offered room for some instrumental improvisation.”
Key to this grandiose gamble was developing an original sound. For that to happen, I would have to pull it up from within myself and run it by Allan Faull and see how it turned out. We wove the better results into complete songs and kept the not-so-successful ideas in the cooker for subsequent reworking. Nothing was off limits just because it happened to have come from some genre not typically associated with modern pop styles. I’d take anything that lent itself to making me feel good when I heard it and that offered room for some instrumental improvisation. If we could play it, we’d try to use it. At the same time, I wasn’t going to get too lassez faire about it and let the process drift into territory where the songs would lose cohesiveness.
The results of this approach are best heard on the album of the last concert I did. In that instance, I was lucky enough to have assembled the most appropriate collection of musicians, up to that point in time, to try its hand at interpreting what I had been working on. The band may not have been performing under the name, Wakeford Hart, but that was out of consideration to those of the original lineup who were not there and who were staying in Cape Town, not leaving it. The constructional basis of the music remained the same and, in that sense, it differed by only a few degrees from what Wakeford Hart would’ve played.
It’s a point worth making that though the external aspects of Wakeford Hart remained behind in South Africa, the spirit of it, and the intellectual property thereof, and therefore, the sound, remained within the consciousness of the mind that travelled across the Atlantic to South America, and thence, across Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia to the USA, in an effort to circumvent the obstacles arrayed against it in South Africa, back in those days.
I resist the idea that Wakeford Hart is nothing more than a a flash in the pan of the history of popular music in South Africa, now dead and buried. It’s much more abstract than that. It’s a reminder that persists to this day, in the minds of many who yet live, of how we yearned for better – and how we still yearn – and will only fully disappear when those hopes and dreams are fully realized and all of those who were inspired by the aspirations it sought to serve are dead and forgotten. Thanks to that one record I managed to put out and an old master tape that sat on a shelf in a basement for forty years, they now include more people than back in 1972 and even some who were not yet born, at the time, not just in South Africa, but all over the world.
Is this something I envisioned, back when were just a bunch of young people knocking about a few musical ideas in Patrick’s house? Honestly, if the idea had found lips to express it among ourselves, we would’ve laughed out loud at the absurdity of it.
What kind of material did you play? How would you described the sound of Wakeford Hart? How did you decide to use the name “Wakeford Hart”?
The song material I wrote had to cover three main bases: one, it had to have a good theme, expressed in the best lyrics I could concoct; two, it had to ride on a pleasing set of chord changes, so as not to be boring; three, it had to have a good melodic structure that could be sung not just by the band, but also by those who had heard us more than just once or twice. My approach to the instrumental material was a bit looser. Whether it had this feel or that feel wasn’t important. We were not a genre-confined group.
One can see, in an instant, how this approach would not fit smoothly into the way recorded music was being marketed at the time. That was the down side of the equation. The up side of the equation is that, if you do mange to break through to having an extensive listener ship, you can feature a wider array of music, appealing to a more diverse fan base and thereby counter the risk of becoming pigeon-holed. No one has managed to pull off this trick more successfully than the Beatles, though others have used it, for obvious reasons.
This approach is completely opposed to that of using bass and drums as the lead component to the making of a song and assigns those instruments to a supporting role, rather than being out in front of the composition. My chief concern was that the lyrics and melody not be obscured by percussion and bass during performances.
The resulting relatively quieter sound worked quite well for concerts. It could have been even better if I had had the good sense to make a dedicated sound man part of the band. The sound man’s familiarity with the material can make all the difference to the way a band’s work comes across to an audience. One of the worst mistakes ad hoc sound men make is that of thinking that volume adds value to the listening experience. It doesn’t. All it does for most people is switch the brain to ear-protection mode, which makes you tire more quickly and want to go home.
As to why we chose to use Wakeford Hart as opposed to other options, I’ve discussed that already, but could add that there’s a lot of mystery behind the selection of a name. It just has to feel right. You run through countless options. Gradually, one begins to feel more real than the others. This is the name that connects you most directly with the collective will of the aggregate, collective Future Self, which includes all of those for whom the experience of that named collective will be significant.
People with the knack of picking great names out of the ether are de facto futurists. If I were one, I’d have bought stock in Amazon when friends of ours in Seattle were working to build it from scratch, and be rich today. In fact, I was averse to the whole idea, in view of the damage I thought it could do to main street merchants in the book and music trades. Now, I use Amazon to make up for the absence of that kind of shop out where we live. With respect to choosing Wakeford Hart for a name, however, I think it was so close to my personal destiny that getting it at least part right was a lot easier.
What happened after the band stopped? I read that you gathered a new group of musicians to help you perform.
This is a bit of a difficult question to delve into. It involves a terrible thing that occurred a little past midnight on the thirteenth day of June, 1971 – exactly one year, to the day, before the yacht, Wayfarer, put out into the Atlantic, under a leaden sky, bound for Rio de Janeiro, with me, and a crew of four others on board.
We had been hired to play at a very big party out in Kuilsriver, a suburb to the west of Cape Town that used to be farmland. At the time, the lineup in the band included (if I remember correctly), Allan on guitar, Jacque de Villiers on bass, Patrick on drums, Amanda singing and me doing my thing on piano, guitar and voice. It was an ill-chosen decision to play and, from my recollection of it, did nothing to boost the reputation of the band. The hosts had decided to lay on a good time for their guests and there were over a hundred people there. Part of the offerings was a performance by a fire-eater whose show consisted of choreography around a bowl of burning light oil perched on a stand, using flaming batons to execute intricate moves that made interesting patterns in the dark. It’s an ancient art that requires great precision to pull off. There were long benches arrayed around the performance, for the greater benefit and enjoyment of spectators. To offset the possibility of rain making the show impossible – it was, after all, midwinter in Cape Town, when rain falls there – the performance was held in a great big barn.
When the performance commenced, I don’t know why, but I stepped outside. The whole thing seemed a little risky and it was too crowded in there for me. My back was turned to the barn when, suddenly, there was a huge bang and people screaming coming from inside the barn. I got a big fright. People came running out of the entrance as fast as they could go, flying by as I stood there for a few seconds, wondering what to do. Perhaps it was the army training that helped me keep my head, but as soon as the entrance cleared, I entered the barn, to see what the situation was.
There was fire on the floor, and smoke thick in the air. There was no one left in the barn, save one. In the gloomy half-light of the flames, I could see the bench that the crowd had knocked over, from whence the bang had come, and standing a few feet off to the side, a girl so badly burned that flaps of skin were hanging off her arms and face. Despite the horrible disfigurement, I recognized, to my horror, that it was Jane, our road manager, Charles’, girlfriend and helper. In that instant, I knew that if I did not do the right thing immediately, she would die, and in that instant, the right course of action came to my mind: first, not to touch any part where she was burnt, and use my voice only in an attempt to get her to use her own will to stop her system from going into shock, which, I was sure, would kill her. As gently as I could, I fixed her attention on my voice, telling her that it was vital for her to calm down as much as she could and concentrate her will on surviving. Into her will, I let my own flow. Somehow, we got out of there, and I stayed with her outside, as she stood there, trembling, talking up her will while the others scrambled to get ready the van we had come in, to take her to Groote Schuur, a hospital with one of Africa’s most experienced and competent burn units. Patrick stayed with her in the back of the van while Charles drove. In a smaller town, the hospital would not have had an all-night staff, but this facility went round the clock, and so they were able to stabilize her immediately.
Jane did not die, but she came close to it, with months spent recuperating in the hospital and a seemingly endless series of painful skin grafts to endure, at the hands of a surgeon for whom the agony of others had become routine and unspectacular. Despite the spiritual trauma of it, the experience did not succeed in crushing her. In fact, though I would wait for forty-four years to discover it, it actually helped her make an exceedingly strong-willed and compelling person of herself.
Later, we learned how the incident had happened. Some idiotic reprobate had indulged his male sense of mischief by kicking over the stand on which the urn of burning oil sat. The blazing liquid went straight under where Jane was standing, enveloping her in flames. She just happened to be standing in the wrong spot for her luck (but maybe the right one for her destiny; it’s hard to say).
In a shameful indictment of the indifference of Cape Town’s “finest”, the perpetrator was never pursued, publicly identified or called to account in a court of law.
For me, the experience left a cloud from which I could not recover – the feeling that if that young girl hadn’t been there, chipping in to help in the logistic side of Wakeford Hart, she would not have been injured like that. After I left Cape Town for Rio, everything happening back in South Africa became unknown to me, but the share of responsibility for what had happened to Jane lived on in my conscience.
Up to that point, I’d felt that my music-related efforts were blessed. After that incident, I felt exactly the opposite – that they were cursed. It’s the sort of thing that burrows down into your consciousness and then metastasizes, insinuating doubt into everything you do, like a worm in an apple. You want, somehow, to repair the damage, but there is no way you can.
Another bad thing came out of this incident. After it happened, I approached my millionaire father to see if there was any help he could render, either to help Jane’s family with expenses, or put pressure on the police to arrest the perpetrator. He showed no interest in the incident and declined to become involved. I was ashamed by his unwillingness to do anything to help. It left me wondering just what kind of person this man I called my father really was. Did he have a heart, or was he just so mentally based that nothing could so move his sense of empathy that he would be willing to part with a single dime to assuage it? I got the definitive answer to that question when I was left disinherited by him in 2015.
2015 was also the year that I was released from the burden of thinking that I was surely resented by Jane Parkin for what being involved with Wakeford Hart had done to her.
2015 was not a good year for Rachel and me.The difficulties that we had experienced living in this tiny, feud-stricken town had reached a climax. We were being targeted by people who were convinced that we were communist operatives, working to advance an insidious plot by the Obama family, and others, to impose One-World-Order restrictions upon the county, most notably, gun control. It sounds laughable, but at the time, it certainly wasn’t. When a photoshopped picture of the President hanging from a noose was posted on the windshield of our car, it gave me the perfect opportunity to push back. We sent the image in a letter to the secret service and left the rest to unfold as it would, and as it did. From that point on, people left us alone. But we were bummed out that this was where we were stuck.
I knew a bit about incantations – the result of deep immersion in the field of metaphysical writings back around 1990. I knew I could make them work. I also knew enough about them to be extremely cautious around that kind of forming instrument. But we had reached bottom and it was time to call in the Good, even if the Bad had to make way for it.
At midnight, in a howling gale coming down off the mountain, I walked into the middle of the only highway intersection in town and opened a channel into the future, with a special combination of ancient words used by gnostics for millenia. This should alarm no one. Prayers are supposed to work in the same manner. I made a request for good things to come to us from anywhere on the planet and then closed the connection – the same function that saying “amen” at the end of a prayer performs.
Over the course of the next week, we received three introductory emails from people far away. One was from a music producer in Sweden, regarding possible collaboration on mastering a song, one from a radio reporter in Berkley, California, regarding an in-person interview, and the last one was from Jane to Rachel, enquiring whether she knew of a way to get hold of me. I tried to find that initial email from Jane on our Yahoo account, but the log backward ends a few weeks after that happened. Basically, it said that she was looking for Peter Wale who, forty-four years earlier had saved her life. It was so out of the blue that I was almost in a state of shock about it. It started a remarkable series of emails back and forth in which I learned of the various challenges and triumphs of her journey from near fatally burned Capetonian girl to a strong-willed, but still-unsettled woman with exceptional writing skills, bravely beginning a new life based in Portugal (the visiting of which, by Rachel and me, depends greatly on how well the record reissue of The Memoirs of Hakeford Wart is received in Europe). Given what I now know about her, she has a compelling autobiography of her own quietly percolating up to the surface of reality.
One startling fact that emerged from our revived connection was that she was still a Wakeford Hart fan and that she knew of other fans. It was only then that I began to realize that the name didn’t just pertain to a band of musicians; it was more like a thread of common identity that still connected many folks, in countries all around the world, to one another – invisibly but enduringly. I should have known it before but, you know, I was so immersed in my American survival experience that I was absolutely oblivious to it. This apotheosis lifted a burden from my shoulders.
Back in 1971, all I could see was that the band thing wasn’t happening after the fire incident. But now I was known as someone who could write music and I was approached to do work for other people’s projects, independent of the band. This work served as a bridge to performing under my own name.
One project worth noting is the music I wrote (on short order, I might add) for the satire, “Tom Thumb”, written by Henry Fielding and published in 1730. It was a clever little reworking of the original farce that could have been a big success in, say London or New York, where you don’t have to be literal to amuse people. But it was put on in Cape Town, which, though beautiful, is not overly predisposed toward copping to the sardonic reworking of old English masterworks, designed to drill little holes in the comfortable assumptions of the privileged and – more than that – get them to laugh about it. Plus, there was the distinct fingerprint of the Nationalist government on the sudden cancellation of the production at the Nico Malan Center, after we’d given only a few performances. There was no appetite in the existing regime for tolerance toward artistic expressions of dissent, however oblique.
To flesh out whatever I could come up with in so short a time, I had the help of a fellow who could play flute and saxophone like the devil. His name was Sean Bergin. Some years later, I was surprised and delighted to run into him in New York. Though Sean died in 2012, he lives on in the annals of both American and South African music, principally as a gifted jazz player, rich in the influences of South African musics. The fact that he was born only five months before me, to the day, and now is six years gone, does not escape me. It’s a wake-up call reminding me that our days are numbered and there is still a lot of good music to be recorded. Perhaps Sean’s immersion in his craft was too intense. Having worked with him, I know that there is a distinct possibility of that having happened. For my part, I am just grateful to still be here and looking forward to working up new and better music with Rachel.
Creatively, “Tom Thumb” was pretty good work; but when the rubber hit the road, it was an embarrassing flop that I did not take lightly. Suddenly, Cape Town seemed like a provincial dead end for me, and when the chance to join a crew sailing to Brazil on a yacht came up in late 1971, I applied. The actual date of departure was to be in mid 1972. My enthusiasm had been stoked by my natural mother’s new husband, Carlos Cotrim, whom I had met for the first time in the first half of that year. He was an urbane, worldly, Brazilian man. They had met in Germany at a time in my mother’s life when things weren’t looking up for her. They had left Germany and come to South Africa for what would turn out to be two year sojourn, before moving on, for good, to Brazil. He made a big impression on me, with his descriptions of life and music in Brazil (some of which, I was to discover, were somewhat exaggerated, or out of date, when I got there. No matter.) Sitting there in the living room of their house in Johannesburg, during one of Wakeford Hart’s most unfortunate forays out of Cape Town, listening to him talk while we all drank gin and tonics in the heat of early evening, remains one of my most delicious memories ever. That I should so soon thereafter be given the opportunity to act on the visions he had planted in my mind is just one more of the entirely improbable events that occurred at the time.
By the time the old year was giving way to 1972, I had put so much into the music thing, with so little to show for it that home, for me, had become a one room shack, on the poor side of the tracks in Mowbray. There was no bathroom and my bed was a pile of straw. The contrast between these circumstances and those of my parents, only four miles away, up on Wynberg Hill, could not have been starker. But I never even stopped to think about it. I had become a social nomad. Mostly, I spent the nights with whatever girlfriend would have me stay over, which may seem outrageous in today’s world, but wasn’t that unusual back then. Of girlfriends eager to play host, I had a greater share than people these days might deem politically correct. But I was good looking, earnest and well known as a musician among people my age, so, as long as I amused those who valued my presence, it was a viable option for someone in my position to be exercising. I had given my all to music and music, in turn, presented me with an unconventional way to survive.
This was the background circumstance of my life when I threw myself into the task of putting on a farewell concert. To deny that I was in any way angry at how things had turned out for me would be disingenuous. At 23, standing at the start line of adult life, you tend to be extremely prone to subjectively driven thinking and behavior. Your ego is very strong at that age. Emotions rise quickly when things get in your way. Losing is not taken with equanimity. This leads to choices that others may find objectionable, and that’s the down side of young men, such as I was, at that time. On the other hand, even if you are a bit of a pain in the ass, you tend to get more done at that age. There is a never-ending battle being played out between the viewpoint of the young and that of the old. Thankfully, the old take their convictions to the grave with them, while the young take theirs into the prime years of their lives. And so, society tends to leave things that no longer serve well behind.
While I was, indeed, an angry young man in 1972, I also had the good sense to realize that I would have to be as clever as I could manage in expressing it through music. Today, you can say anything in a song, and still get some kind of audience to go along with it, but back then, you had to be subtler about it.
Taking it right to the edge was what I had in mind, and what I did. After all, I was leaving Cape Town and would soon be forgotten, but maybe some of what I had to stay would stick and contribute to the change I knew had to come some day.
How I got those young people to play had everything to do with the fact that I would be leaving; like a parting favor, if you will. They also got paid – both for practice time and off the take from ticket sales. Friendship, I’m sad to say, had little to do with it: not one ever bothered to stay in touch after I left. The music world, for all its pretensions, is not full of deep brotherly love. It’s about competition and getting ahead and making a living. It’s more a business than a fraternity; it’s about comparative skills rather than camaraderie and about personal advantage rather than personal amity. Warm and enduring relations are more likely to be cultivated with those who’ve come to listen than those who come to play with you. In that sense, it’s a realm full of professional promiscuity, particularly here in the northwest of America, though not exclusive to it.
It took me a long time to learn to accept this, and when I did, it saddened me. What I had in mind when Wakeford Hart began was something warmer, kinder, more inclusive and far more resilient. No doubt, there were others who copped to these sentiments and held them in their hearts over the passing years, particularly those who owned and valued one of those records I put out on the eve of my departure. If you’re reading this, and happen to be one, be assured, you’re a special person. I hope this serves to add value to what you have.
On a more encouraging note, I have to add that I was contacted by Patrick Humphreys not long ago and we agreed that a reunion concert in Cape Town would be a gas, if it could be arranged. Also, we had the wonderful visit from Amanda Blue Leigh in the spring of 2016. So, you know, there’s always the chance that something special might be cooking in the kitchen of Divine Providence.
In 1972 you gave a concert with your group. Handful of tracks from the performance was selected and you pressed 300 copies. Would you share your insight on the albums’ tracks?
As you may know from what Strawberry Rain has announced on Facebook, there were 14 songs performed at the final concert. Actually, there were 15, but I guess the recording of one song wasn’t good enough. After going through what we had, I decided on four tracks. The challenge I faced was how best to use the track length available on the vinyl disc, while losing as little of the edgy content I had sought to put out in the show.
The song that I had written for the show – the one that encapsulated my feelings and thoughts regarding the limitations facing me and other musicians in Cape Town who weren’t doing the conventionally accepted styles of music played by the SABC – had to be on the album or it would have no statement to make. Next, I really liked the way the opening song of the evening, “C minor Drive”, came out and I’m really glad it now heads up the 3 LP set, but I wanted to feature a lot more of Nicholas Pike’s flute playing (phenomenal improvisation for someone seventeen years old), and since it had to be one or the other, I opted for “One Quiet Sultry Sunday”, in no small way because it said so much about what was happening (and would continue to happen) to Cape Town’s natural environment. So that was it for having a long song on either side. That left space for a shorter track on each of the sides.
The two that fit best were “Rabbit Row” and “Sister Mary”. The former song lampoons the government for advocating that whites increase their birth rate to at least five children per white woman over the course of her fertile years, as a means of counteracting the low percentile of whites in the nation’s population and building up the supply of young white soldiers that would be needed to repel an alliance of nations from the north, intent on destroying Apartheid. My main concern with that policy was its potential impact upon a fragile, thirsty land, already struggling to keep water in its few rivers that still ran year round, and what would happen to the fish that lived in them and the birds that lived on them. “Sister Mary”, the other song, doesn’t just hint at my sympathies regarding the conflict between the mandates of organized religion and the mandates of Mother Nature, when it comes to how men and women go about enjoying the potentials that the difference between them offers; it also reflects my anger that the churches in South Africa provided cover for the schools they inhabited, like the ones I’d been in, for boys to be beaten with the cane, not just for disciplinary problems, but also, for missing mandatory chapel attendance (in St. Andrew’s the punishment was six cuts – a truly depraved act of sadistic abuse, every bit as bad as torture). Need I add that such things were being done to other people’s children, and yet, the churches present in those schools watched and said nothing, and nor did the parents who kept their children in such schools – parents like my own, for instance.
I guess you can tell that I’m not a great fan of organized religion or parents who turn their backs when harm comes to their children because of the hold that prevailing convention has over how they think. I guess you can also tell how, with the choice of tracks for this album, I was taking a few pointed jabs at not just the system I grew up in, but also those who supported it with their unquestioning obedience and defense of it.
One item I do not like hearing on “Goodbye Cape Town (and good riddance)” is my jab at Amanda Cohen for abandoning Wakeford Hart and going with the more musically accomplished band, HAMMAK. I regret that, but I would never take it out of the record. This isn’t some alabaster cameo, wrought perfect. You get the rough with the smooth. It’s the product of a brash young man, blundering through a tough time in his life, with scores of one kind to settle (and scores of another kind to write). On the good side of it, however, would I ever have bothered to put together those particular lyrics about someone whose love and respect I did not value deeply?
Did I feel slighted? Obviously, I did. Did I miss her? You bet I did.
People who love one another are notorious for quarreling over stuff that seems to make no sense to others. Most of the time, they make up, and though Amanda and I have never directly discussed the matter, I think she is old and wise enough by this point to realize that I did her no long term harm by having a rant at her on this record. At least, that’s what I hope she thinks.
Between then and now, we’ve both had ups and downs by the dozen and we’re still connected enough to one another for her to have made the effort to take detour from an event in Ashland, 360 miles away, to come and hang out with us for a couple of days. It was the best visit you can imagine.
Take the whole picture into account and you get an inkling of the lingering effects of the spirit of Wakeford Hart.
Where did you press the LP?
This is an easy one. I don’t know, but somebody reading this may just know.
All I can say is, thank God there was someone in Cape who had a business where a nobody like me could have record like this put together, jacket and all, for a very modest sum.
Having had my own custom window and door company in Seattle for twelve hard years – an effort that cost me dearly and seriously affected my health – I have an abiding admiration for those who put together and maintain small businesses. They are the undergirding for all kinds of other private enterprise that depends upon what they can do. In those days, they were spread out across the developed world, in many different economic zones that were relatively insulated from one another. If one failed, the sector it belonged to was not threatened. There would be the same kind of business in another town, not too far away.
Today, the situation is quite different. Great big companies, having driven small business people into giving up, now purport to be offering the same services once dominated by small companies, like the record press and compiler I worked with. Even if that were true – which it is only in a qualified way – when these big companies fail, or are broken up and sold off, piecemeal, to benefit major shareholders, whole sectors of expertise go down and disappear with them.
One sector that has been affected precisely in this way is the business of producing vinyl records, especially in the USA and Britain. It’s the reason this record, “The Memoirs of Hakeford Wart” has been stalled in the works of Strawberry Rain for more than half a decade. Jason Connoy has a description on Facebook of how the battle went to be able to secure the services of companies that could press the LPs and make the boxes.
Back in 1971, in Cape Town, the whole process for the original item took about a month to complete.
What’s the songwriting process like for you?
Ah, the quintessential question: “How do you go about writing songs”?
If I told you, I’d have to kill you. Sorry, bad joke. No, I’m happy to share.
The fact is that I have no set approach to how I go about writing a song. The real answer is, “Any way that comes to me”. Not joking.
One of my best songs ever, “These Things are You”, came to me out in the orchards, over the course of a few weeks, while I was working as an apple picker in Michigan on the farm of Randy Kober. The lyrics to another excellent anecdotal song, “The Odyssey and the Ecstacy of Paul” were all put together in the shower in our house in Seattle and relayed to Rachel as she stood on the other side of the curtain with pen and pad in hand.
The fact is that, once I’ve begun on a song, I can’t let the thing go lightly. Either the melodic structure, or the lyrics will be running around in my head all day, in a process of constant revision, as I try to discover how the entity in question wishes to be expressed in the physical world.
Quite honestly, I never pay the slightest attention to whether a song might be commercially viable, or not. When I read somewhere that someone thinks they have the key to good songwriting, I take a pass. Been there, done that, don’t agree. All you have to do is look at Billboard’s annals of blockbuster hits over the years and you realize that there is no formula. And that’s a wonderful thing. The public’s appetite for song is staggeringly broad, totally unpredictable and cannot be pinned down, despite the ardent attempts of record company executives to do so. As a result, we always have new and exciting things either breaking through – or taking an end run around – the impediments placed on the creative side of the business.
If you’re a songwriter or composer, the best you can do is to stick to what feels right to you. Don’t let extraneous crap lead you astray. The odds are that you will never be hugely successful and famous, anyway. For you to be happy doing what you do, you shouldn’t let that reality discourage you from giving a voice to the sounds that live inside you. Besides, fame always brings an excess of attention that you have to deal with, some of it uninvited, along with whatever good stuff you might have been seeking in trying to become famous. With respect to writing music, I believe you’re best off regarding fame as something completely incidental to how you approach your craft.
Sure, we all need money to avoid ending up in a bad way, but it helps to keep in mind that getting much more money than is needed to be reasonably secure, to the extent that it begins to attract the attention of people who want to make money with your money, can be a real headache. All you have to do to be convinced of this is read up about the last chapter of Elvis Presley’s life.
So no, I don’t try to make what I’m working on sound like this or that band in the public eye, even if that is what the gate keeping side of the business keeps saying they want songwriters to do.
Once I’ve got the basis of something appealing down, I will play through it as best I can. Depending on the complexity of the piece, just that part alone can take a long time – even decades, believe it, or not. As I said, I’m not an gifted instrumentalist, just one striving to become better, whose efforts occasionally reach a point where everything seems to be just as it wants to be.
But that extended period of trying to get a piece right may, itself, be some kind of advantage in that it offers a greater window of opportunity in which to discover places where the piece might benefit from alterations, additions, removals and rearrangement of its constituent parts. In addition, at some point, I might feel like moving to a lower or higher key which, on the piano, can feel like going back to square one.
These processes of gradual approximation toward an optimal point of arrangement are applied equally to both the melodic aspect of the piece and the lyric aspect of the piece. Everything is open for incremental improvement, and with different melody lines all going simultaneously in the left hand, the right hand and the voice, there’s a lot of work to do before the piece can be inculcated into one’s consciousness in the form known to musicians as muscle memory. Once you have the muscle memory part down pat, you can move on to expression and stage projection. There’s nothing novel about the process; entertainers have been doing it for centuries. This approach, however, does differ quite markedly from the more dynamic, take-it-as-it-comes approach of improvisation typical of jazz and blues players. It is somewhat rare to find people who are proficient at writing the way I do, and also very good at improvising, like Diana Krall, for instance (not that I think I can hold a candle her, or ever will, which is okay by me as long as people who hear what I do get something worthwhile out of it).
Actually, once you reach a certain level of comfort with a piece, and you’ve been through each segment of it hundreds – perhaps thousands – of times over, there’s always some quotient of in-the-moment improvising. Each rendition is, therefore, to some extent, an act of ad lib songwriting that depends greatly upon the context you find yourself in and what kind of mood you’re in and who’s listening to you play. If you happen to feel pretty comfortable and secure, you can get some nice departures from the norm that liven the result up a lot.
Lately, I’ve been really working hard to integrate the vocal and instrumental aspects of pieces, so that all participating instruments get a chance to come forward during the playing of them, and incorporating more interesting modulations of the central theme into the overall structure of pieces. When you’re playing live with your friends, this gives them a moment to be the focus of attention, which I like very much. As such, the songs I’m writing can be much longer and more fleshed out than the norm that has been established by the mainstream of the recording and radio industries. With the exception of a period of greater expressive freedom in popular music during what is known broadly as the psychedelic era, record executives have looked askance at this type of songwriting, to the detriment of the industry, in general, which young people, with their phones, are now bypassing in droves.
I realize that while I was describing the above process, I was visualizing sitting at the piano. The process when using the guitar is a little simpler, because the action of the right hand is simpler. When it comes to playing an accompaniment for a song on the guitar, most of the work is done by the fingers of the left hand and, therefore, the other side of one’s brain from the piano. Switching back and forth, which I do in live performances, can be tricky to pull off.
Whether I use the piano or the guitar for the purpose of writing a song, depends on the feel I want the song to have and where I envision playing it when it’s ready to be heard (you can’t take a piano on a road trip, but you can take a guitar).
With respect to the subject matter dealt with in the lyrics, I tend to look to my own personal experiences for inspiration. I think it lends authenticity to the listening experience when a song is performed by the person who wrote it. That’s why I think you need to have a rich trove of down-and-dirty life experience, through thick and thin, in and out of love, to draw from if you want to be taken seriously, as the author of the content in lyrics. The back story behind the creation of a song can be as important to the creation of the public’s interest as the song itself.
As if the complexity of the process I’ve described above were not enough, by the time you’ve got to this point, you are still far short of doing full justice to a song. Sure, you can go out to some open mike somewhere and do your thing, after waiting all night for sixteen other aspirants to do their thing – and we know how that goes: basically nowhere – or you can accept that you’re only at first base and that, for the song to achieve its full potential, you’re going to have to work on the arrangement elements of the song, which may mean recruiting some outside assistance on some different instruments, before you try the song out on an audience of some kind.
Fortunately for me, I have the excellent collaboration skills of Rachel to draw on, in putting flesh on the bones of a piece. She transcribes the lines I come up with to standard notation on paper, to be played either on one of her recorders, or on the accordion. If she is playing the piano on a particular piece, she writes out her part in full. That happens on some songs in which I play guitar.
So, basically, that’s the mechanical aspect of the job. Most of the rest is learning to play what we’ve worked on with verve and feeling, by basically forgetting any of the hundreds of blind leads we tested putting the piece together and remembering only the options we selected.
What was the political situation in South Africa back in the 1970s? Your music reflects a certain protest.
The first thing you have to understand about the political situation in South Africa at the time is the three main historical roots of the deep insecurities that provided sufficient rationale for the Afrikaner-dominated National Party to push through the many increments of law that became known as Apartheid. The English translation of that word is separate existence. People living outside South Africa puzzle over why it should have been the Afrikaners, rather than the English-speaking South Africans who ushered these laws into existence. They focus too much on race.
The first root was, undoubtedly, that natural insecurity that so easily arises between people who look different and who don’t have the mitigating influence of immersion in a common sophisticated culture that trumps racial tension.
The second root was the intractable suspicion that Afrikaners had developed of the English speakers over the course of 160 years of hostile relations in South Africa, beginning with the British seizure of the Cape in 1806, as a means of preventing the French, under Napoleon, from threatening British colonies in the East. In response, to unsettled conditions, the British found themselves increasingly obliged to undertake military and police actions, including the freeing of all nonwhite slaves in 1828, most of whom were owned by people of Dutch descent who engaged primarily in the raising of cattle and sheep, and the growing of whatever crops the land could sustain, mainly in the interior reaches of the Cape Colony. These people called themselves Boers. In an effort to get as far away from the overlordship of the British as they could, they undertook what is known as the Great Trek, hauling everything they had in wagons, away from the reach of British rule and ever northward into territories occupied by Nguni Bantu people who, themselves, we’re being displaced southward by tribes to the north. Out of necessity, in order to survive annihilation, Afrikaners became formidable fighters, eventually taking on – and nearly beating – the British army in a war spanning 1899 to 1902, known as the Boer War. Defeated, but not subjugated, the Boers turned to politics to gain what armed conflict could not, eventually rising to power in 1948 and remaining there for the next forty-six years. Over this period the National Party explored and tapped out the potentials of apartheid, proving conclusively that their opposition to the liberal aspirations of the English speakers in the country, in the wake of World War II, represented by the United Party, was a fool’s errand that cost the country – and themselves – dearly. The thread that runs throughout this story is the irreconcilable hostility held by Afrikaners toward English speaking South Africans, like me, for instance. Interestingly, we English speakers do not return such hostility in kind. Basically, we have no axe to grind with them. Innumerable aspects of Afrikaner culture are part of our identity as South Africans – part of what makes us distinct among the English-speaking peoples of the world, and recognizable wherever we go.
The third root of the political situation in South Africa pertained to the enormous mineral wealth of the nation that led quite rapidly to a mind boggling aggregation of wealth in the hands of a very small percentage of the overall population, to the detriment of social wealth in the country and, I believe, the prospects for transforming the country into a vibrant and healthy democracy. As has been shown repeatedly around the world, highly dichotomized societies lend themselves to the ascent of demagogues, who rarely help to improve conditions for the poor, especially if the rich don’t care to play ball. There was so much hope back in 1994, with the election of Nelson Mandela, that those who had been shut out of a sharing of the country’s wealth would, at last, have the weight of crushing relative poverty taken off their shoulders. Twenty-four years later, the divisions between the fabulously rich and the miserably poor still remain, but the color of the faces of those who occupy those vastly divergent stations in society have changed. The new rich are not exclusively white and the new poor not exclusively black and brown, but even if the linkage between race and wealth has changed, the general mechanics of exclusivity and exclusion roll on, just as they did back in 1972, when I left.
The ironic upside of the tremendous concentration of wealth in the hands of white speakers of English is that it confounded the attempts of Afrikaner radicals who pushed for making Afrikaans the only official language of the country – a move which would have virtually severed South Africa’s connection to the wider world of English-based business and entertainment, including that genre of music that I, and other English-speaking South African artists, have attempted to add to, with limited success.
Putting all of the above into the time window around 1970, you can more easily see why the Afrikaans based government might have been less than friendly towards the kind of content I was using in the concerts I arranged. Critics, including artists, who stuck out too much might, and did, find themselves under house detention that could be renewed every 180 days. Such action did not come after a warning or a trial; it was arbitrary and immediate. The whole point of it was to quietly send shock and fear into the ranks of associates and, in that sense, it succeeded well, as an example of relatively soft, but pervasive, power over liberal expression.
Of course, the option of house arrest depended quite a bit on there being such a house in which a person could be held. Most of those so confined were upscale, English-speaking liberals. At the time of my final concert, I had no fixed address, which, in hindsight, may have been a good thing for me.
I don’t want to make it seem like I’m a great sympathizer with people of some other degree of pigmentation. All I care about is the advancement of social conditions that make it easier for the average person to exercise his or her inner potential, with the minimum of unfairness to have to deal with. The persons I refer to come in untold variations of outer form. As long as structures exist to make that difficult, I think we have a responsibility to look for ways to modify those structures with as little social disruption as can be arranged. Nothing more dramatic than that.
Back in 1972, I wasn’t so clear about all of this as I am today. I must admit that I saw something of purely personal interest in being seen as a critic of the establishment. It added cache to my artistic persona. Besides, how could you be a real artist and NOT use your art to say something subtle about your take on the political situation? So, in an odd kind of way, I owe perhaps more to my Afrikaner brethren than to my politically torpid English compatriots, who all seemed so much concerned with upping their social status and wealth that concern for others outside their social circles – that is, the common man – was seen as either a passing fancy, or some kind of neurosis. At least, the Afrikaners got me thinking about right and wrong. And, by the way, did I fail to mention that my grandmother, my father’s mother, Madeline Wessels – the one adult in all my family from whom I felt unstinting love and adoration as a child, who died far too soon – was from a prominent Afrikaner family, making me part Afrikaner, as well?
The key difference to understand about South African politics circa 1970 and South African politics after the advent of universal suffrage in 1994, is that the ideological divide back in 1970, when only whites could vote, was, for the most part, based on a voter’s preferred home language – either English or Afrikaans. Today, the lines of ideological difference depend mostly on what tribal language you speak at home. There are 9 major ones. English and Afrikaans are seen as facilitative languages that are used to provide a universal communications format for use in law, business, and education etc, but are not politically determinative, because whites are only a small part of the electorate.
The money thing remains a potent force, however, and it hasn’t taken blacks long to catch the bug. How soon we tend to forget our ideological zeal when we get rich. Far be it from me to claim that I’m somehow immune; but, you know, I wouldn’t mind testing out the principle on myself…….
As a Slovenian, no doubt, you recognize something of the post-Tito Balkan situation in what is happening to South Africa today. May it not go that far.
With respect to there being an element of protest in some of the songs on the album, I hope people will recognize that only a fraction of the subject matter exhibiting some theme of disapproval has any direct connection to a known political issue of the time. Most of it is just social commentary. Take the song “One Quiet Sultry Sunday”, for instance. It may well have been the first time ever that a song of that nature was offered up in a public concert in South Africa. As to whether other songs of a similar nature had been performed in other countries, before that, I’m not sufficiently educated on the subject to be able to know. This reflects something that songwriters can do; namely, shine a light on something that the public might pay more attention to and, in some cases, refer to its political representatives for legislative action.
What can you tell me about the cover artwork for The Memoirs of Hakeford Wart (Goodbye Capetown)?
Well, for one, it’s one aspect of the album that I really like. It’s so zany that the first time I saw it again, after not seeing for the previous 38 years, my first reaction was like”Wow! That’s totally nuts! Did I really do that?” Yep, I really did. It reminded me that I smoked back then, not a whole lot, but socially.
It was all hand done, back then. Using a developing tray and red light, you could use a two-stage process to make a composite image. In the first stage, you’d expose part of a piece of photo stock to one projected image, using one negative, while covering part of the stock. In the second stage, you’d use another negative to expose another image on the portion of the stock initially covered, while shielding the part you exposed first. This process produced the basic composite image. The printing company I worked with had expertise in doing the print part of the process. I have no idea how they were able to reverse the lettering in the title. Maybe the person who actually did that work is still alive. I would love to be able to credit that person with having been involved, but honestly, I remember nothing of that part, so I can be forgiven for being impressed with the cover.
Strategically, it seems to have been an astute selection of visual and sense elements. The overall effect is sort of surreal – eerily appropriate for a voice from the past.
I must admit to having been a bit creeped out by it, at first.
Were you inspired by psychoactive substances like LSD at the time of writing your songs?
Let me begin by saying that I’ve never come across anyone for whom the regular use of psycho-active drugs – as opposed to nootropic substances -proved beneficial to their being able to create music on a totally reliable basis. The notion that a drug is going to help you be a better creator of intellectual content, aside from the occasional seminal insight, is not something the average person should casually entertain. The risks outweigh the benefits. You’re going to get there anyway, the natural way, if you put in the time, and your overall mastery of what it is you do will be more comprehensive.
Then again, there are lots of people who don’t think of themselves as average, whose opinion on this might differ. I have only my own observations of fifty plus years hanging out with creative people to go on.
My choice of psycho-active substances is a sixteen ounce latte the morning after a long night of wine, women and song.
I have to admit to being somewhat inexperienced in the use of psychoactive substances. Not that I’ve never experimented with them. I’ve tried some relatively innocuous ones – pot, cocaine, methedrine, psilocybin – but not LSD or ayahuasca or any of the potent opioids. The effects were interesting but not so much so that I felt the need to rely on them to get my work done (work tends to take precedence over everything in my life). My own consciousness is such a complex and volatile phenomenon that I’m not inclined to want to intrude too much upon its natural workings, or impose upon others (especially Rachel) another kind of me that might make them feel uncomfortable.
I’m acutely aware of being an entity with a subtle portion of my being existing in the fluid complex of the future. That portion attempts to contribute to the way I make decisions with subtle nudges and pressure in that part of my mind which is subconscious – the places from which notions, urges, hunches, suspicions, intuitions and irrational feelings arise. You don’t always have all the information you need to be able to make the most propitious choice when you’re faced with a number of conflicting options. At a time like that, it helps to have a sharp intuition, and when you’re with someone else who has a sharp intuition, it helps even more.
My system is full of drugs, anyway – the kind made by my body to optimize the experience I’m having. My liver has enough work to do, processing the craft beer and wine I like the experience of drinking when I relax after work. Both taste good and facilitate in the genial sharing of company. I happen to believe that that blessed organ evolved over millennia to derive general benefit from being exercised, and the benefits to society in countenancing the reasonable, and civilized, consumption of fermented liquids made from comestibles that would otherwise have rotted to nothing after the harvest, cannot be dismissed. Why argue with evolution? Thank you, DNA!
The potential of nootropic substances – specifically those that contribute to health and vigor of the brain – is something I’ve looked into quite seriously, with a view to increasing my mental stamina. Being helped to push the borders of your creative abilities outward should, ideally, feel nothing more than satisfying and enjoyable, like driving down a country road, in a nice car, on a clear, late summer day, into countryside you are seeing for the first time. It’s in having the sense that it’s all a product of your own being, moving as fast, or as slowly, as you care to experience it, and that you can revisit this territory at will. The truth of the matter is that is that you really can’t beat good organic nutrition, a sensible regimen of work and rest, regular physical exercise and a great circle of supportive, live-wire friends and associates to be at your creative best on a sustained basis over the course of a lifetime.
You’re not going to find too much of that if you get sucked down into the maw of the entertainment industry. It’s a frenetic mess, desperately spewing out product that should have been allowed to gestate longer and other product that should never have been allowed to clutter the public mind. So much so that dues-charging gatekeepers like Taxi have replaced being able to shake a real live A&R person’s hand, so that person can get the measure of you before receiving your demo for review without charge. The sheer mass of offerings is not just overwhelming; it’s terrifying. It’s a difficult era, with the need to make ever bigger money, to meet ever-rising costs, levied by people who want to live like royalty, driving the whole complex.
Behind all of this ridiculous pressure is the idea that if you can find some kind of substance to take that will give you an edge, the rewards trump the risks – psychotropic, nootropic, whatever. The number of talented people pushing their luck on this, and losing the gamble, is heartbreaking. Everyday, it seems, someone in this industry dies from overdosing on one drug or another.
Just like the chefs who advocate for the slow food movement, I stand for a slow music-writing movement. To hell with cheap knock-offs of other successful material. Do your own thing, for better or worse. If you never “make it”, you might be luckier than you know.
In the past, I’ve tried, on occasion, to work on music with musicians who came to practices and performances high on one thing and another. I have no qualms in saying that most of those people made everything more difficult for me and compromised the end result. The making of music is a delicately balanced art – like brain surgery. Would you be comfortable knowing the brain surgeon who was going to open up your skull felt compelled to smoke a doobie or drop a hit of acid just before going to work? Well, it’s the same kind of thing for me, with respect to making or performing music. I like to have a clear head, and I like to work with collaborators who have clear heads and who, when we have our next practice, can resume where we leave off, without ado.
I can’t, in good conscience, advocate for caution without making the following admission:
Psilocybin did allow me one of the most important insights of my life – one that led me to the doorstep of a much deeper understanding of both Nature and Consciousness than I might otherwise have had. It was back in 1977. At the suggestion of my then house-painting partner, we collected a small amount of liberty caps growing in a grassy field. I ate six on an empty stomach, not knowing what to expect. After the nausea passed, I went out and took a walk in the sunlight of a perfect fall day. There was a spider spinning a web between two bushes, and I stopped to watch it do its thing. The precision with which it attached the spiral web to the radials, making no mistakes as it went round and round, amazed me. It was a highly precise act of consciousness, executed in a spatial circumstance that was unique in time. No wonder it needed eight eyes. To do it right, it had to visualize the end result before actually determining where the center should be, and for that to happen, it had to have a mind in which to project an imagined picture. The speed and efficiency of this spider’s work could only be achieved if it had a close to perfect use of intelligence within the parameters of its peculiar niche in everything that was going on around it. In that moment, I realized that intelligence wasn’t something that only humans had; it was everywhere at work, within whatever micro-realm of critical priorities had shaped any given creature’s form and what it did with that form. In that moment, I knew that that spider was far more exquisitely tuned in to how it approached being in its realm than I was in mine. The next logical conclusion was that Nature, left unabused by Man, was like a 3D jigsaw puzzle of niches that functioned just like this spider’s niche, all coexisting together and interdependent upon one another – all, that is, except for humankind.
Though humans were also an expression of Nature – food from the dirt arranged by DNA to look good in a suit or a dress – they were an anomalous part of it that was somewhat out of sync with the full gestalt of Nature in the way they went about exercising the faculty of free will. Despite the many things that humans could do that other animals couldn’t (or perhaps, because of them), humans operated within Nature like a bull in a china shop.
The problem was also a blessing. The self-awareness that could help humans lift themselves above bestial existence, the gift that gave them individual identity and expressive variety, also led them to compare themselves to others, exciting passions underlying the ego. In a perfect world, those passions would fuel constructive action, underpinned by a personal philosophy consistent with codes of honor embraced by society. Unfortunately, as we know, that last element is often weak or absent in some people and the inflaming of the ego can easily lead people to act in a self-serving and destructive way, significantly out of sync with their place in Nature.
Well, that was a lot to pack into one tiny apotheosis, but basically, it informed how I was going to deploy my own free will after that point, including how I would go about using my ability to come up with musical content.
Years later, that initial realization would lead me into deeper contemplations on the nature of my existence. The hunger for truth, once activated, is not easily sated. Ultimately, it led to the conclusion that consciousness was not, as most people assume, a product of matter. Rather, matter was one of the expressions of consciousness, manifested for the purposes of providing a plenum for coherent experience within the limits imposed by the laws of physics . And the point of the whole thing was no more complicated than having a damn good time working with it, and evolving within in the process.
In one of my new works, “Elegy to a Living Planet”, I take a crack at saying, in poetic code and music, that I was born to be attentive to such things, because I am one of a multitude of such souls born to come together in this life in open defense of a world which is being endangered by the impacts levied upon it that are the consequence of Man settling for uses of intelligence that fall short of the potentials that Man’s faculties, form and spirit allow for. Not just that, mind you, but that this planet has defenses that we ignore, at grave peril to the continued existence of Man under these skies. For all our cleverness, we’re people living in a glass house who just can’t restrain themselves from throwing stones.
It is possible that I might never have written such a song had I not had that one critical apotheosis while under the influence of psilocybin. That’s why they call them magic mushrooms.
In the end, there is no pat answer to the use of psychoactive drugs. For some people, it’s the key to a better life; for others, it’s the gateway to a hall of mirrors.
You moved to South America. What happened there?
Advisement: This is the only account of my time in South America that I have ever written. Though it is long, it is, nevertheless, far short of complete.
In fairness to thoroughness, it wouldn’t be complete without some description of the way I got from Cape Town, South Africa, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. So let’s begin with that.
The first thing people want to know is why anyone would leave what is recognized as one of the most beautiful cities in the world – Cape Town. The quick answer is that I was young and hungry for experience, especially really way-out experience. You’re not going to get that in a city where you have basically run out of options for advancement, which was the case for me back in 1972.
The next thing that puzzles people is why go to South America? The simple answer is that it was the most available opportunity I had going at the time, and I had the the stories of my Brazilian stepfather about how hot the music scene was there running around my head; so why not go?
The deal to join the 5 person crew of a yacht sailing for Rio had been made even before I did the work to put the final concert together. This fact allowed me to call the album, “Goodbye Cape Town (and good riddance)”. My means of departure was already arranged. It was a 54 foot ketch called “Wayfarer”, owned by Seymour Pritchard, originally designed and built in South Africa for the annual Cape to Rio race.
We motored out of Duncan Dock at about midday on the 13th day of June. No one was there to say farewell. Above us the skies had become overcast, but the air was still and the sea was flat. The sails hung like washing on a line. It was not exactly an exciting beginning to the first day of the next grand phase of my life, but a breeze eventually came up and we sailed out west into the ocean. Ahead, on our journey, lay the midpoint destination of St. Helena, a tiny island in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean. We hadn’t got out of sight of the top of Table Mountain before the wind started to blow out of the northwest. Northwest winds are prevalent at that latitude in winter and the winter solstice was only a week away. It soon turned into a gale that forced us to take in the genoa and reef the main.
For two days, the storm forced us to run at an angle before it – not the course we had plotted and far south of where we had intended to go. The seas got bigger and bigger and the sea turned the ugly grey-green of cold, nutrient-rich water coming up from Antarctica. It was not exactly your average pleasant day out sailing. Everyone else got seasick except for me, because I had spent time on boats in the ocean before. The morning of the third day out brought a lull in the wind that left us riding swells so enormous that when we were in a trough, the top of the mast of another boat we had miraculously encountered out there could not be seen when it was in a neighboring trough.
This was one of the more memorable experiences of our 5,000 mile voyage. After that, we worked our way northward and caught a steady southeast wind from behind that had us in St. Helena in about twelve days. Actually, we overshot the island by about a hundred miles and had to tack back into the wind to find it. In those days, there was no GPS guidance system. For longitude, you used a chronometer and the sun; for latitude, a sextant and the sun. The more you did it, the better you got, and Seymour was just getting the hang of the process.
I doubt any of us will ever forget the sight of St. Helena slowly rising above the horizon as we approached, with the red glow of the early morning sun illuminating it – a giant pink bastion of volcanic rock with sheer cliffs plunging down to the sea on all sides, and one lovely little harbor, situated at the foot of Jamestown on the sheltered northwest coast (the wind comes from the southeast). By this time, the water had turned crystal clear and warm, its color, on the open sea, a cheery luminous blue.
Our ten day stay produced memories for a lifetime. The people were absolutely wonderful and we could hang out with them easily because we shared English as a common mother tongue. Being only 23, and completely unattached, I was, of course, more than open to the charms of any attractive young thing who would show an interest in me. After two weeks of being cooped up in a boat with four others and seeing nothing but the ocean, you tend to not be too picky when it comes to a hot, young female being interested in you. So my memories of St. Helena tend to be somewhat tilted toward that side of things. There was one particular girl with whom I established a letter exchange that would hold up, through thick and thin for both of us, for the next sixteen years. Also, there was another rather significant experience involving another girl, midnight, a public changing room and a rather polite constable, but that one is a little beyond the pay grade of this account.
I even got to play my one copy of “The Memoirs of Hakeford Wart” to some of the locals, which made me something of an overnight legend among the young crowd in Jamestown (somewhat overrated, I might add).
Space does not allow for a travel log on St. Helena. Suffice it to say that it is right at the top of my list of places the true adventurer should aspire to see. Since 2017, travelers have been able to get there by air from Johannesburg.
The voyage was not all fun and games, however. On the leg to Brazil, about 500 miles out, just after having passed the remote island of Trinidad, the boat was knocked flat by a tropical oceanic downburst (like that which sank the sailing ship, Concordia, in 2010). It was touch and go, with the spinnaker full of water preventing the yacht from righting itself. Immodest though it may sound, I saved the day (and maybe a lot more) by clambering along the side of the cabin and releasing the forward halliard holding the spinnaker, allowing the mast to rise out of the water. As the end of the halliard went by, I grabbed it to prevent it from going up to the top of the mast. By then, Brian, my shipmate, was there to help. Up the mast we went, both of us grimly holding on, until the mast was vertical. We ended up perched on the first spreader. Now THAT was an experience to remember!
If I had anticipated some kind of grand entrance to Rio de Janeiro when we got there, well, it sure didn’t look like that when we got in. The air was so still as we approached those famous headlands at the head of Guanabara bay, with the Pao de Acuca on one side, that the sea looked like an ominous, oily, undulating mirror. A low blanket of heavy cloud obscured the sun. A blanket of lifeless, polluted air hung over the darkened city. There was a faint sense of forbidding portent about this arrival that I couldn’t dismiss. It seemed like a bad sign. And it was. The next 42 years were to be unremittingly hard for me. I would not find what I had set out to find. I would be devalued, demeaned, humiliated, exploited, cheated, and betrayed and even disinherited. I would lose my looks, my health, my drive and my teeth, but I would never be brought to my knees to the point of quitting and retreating back to South Africa. I had a mission to fulfill, with respect to music, and I would stick to it, if it killed me; which, by the way, it nearly did, on more than one occasion, and yet might.
Though I had only 5 british pounds and a visitor’s visa with me when I stepped off the boat, the yacht club in Rio was as good a landing spot for a young man from South Africa as any. Seymour talked about taking the Wayfarer down to Argentina and asked me if I wanted in, but I had relatives in Rio through my stepfather – the family of Alberto Cotrim, my stepfather’s brother – and he invited me to stay while I found my footing in the city, so I bid my sailing buddies farewell and plunged into the social whirlpool of Carioca society, soon landing a job as an instructor of English language to a mix of class ages, which was not much fun, owing to the general disregard for scholastic rigor and classroom order exhibited by those in their teens, who were there not because they wanted to be, but rather, at the insistence of their parents.
Within that single year of barely keeping my head above water in Rio, I lived in no less than five different places, on the slimmest of incomes, wearing out my welcome in at least two of them, which did nothing to help my already dented morale. Though my new found step-cousin, Armando, tried to be hospitable, his mother resented my presence. From the moment I arrived, both she and her housekeeper treated me like something the dog dragged in. I quickly fled that situation for a studio apartment in Laranjeiras, which I quit when a gal about my age invited me to be her roommate in Jardim Botanico. A step up, no? Well, that lasted until her boyfriend told her he was coming back from Germany, on short notice, which forced me to get an apartment I couldn’t really afford in Botafogo, which led, by the Grace of God, to my exercising the last, and very best, of recommended contacts I had brought with me. His name was Joao Braganca d’Orleans and the only thing I knew about him was that he was a great guy.
The way that I had got this introduction was from his cousin, Thibaud d’Orleans whom I met in Cape Town. He was the son of the then Comte de Paris. I liked him so much that when he told me he had to get to Johannesburg and was going to hitchhike there, I said, ” I’ll give you a ride.” What’s a thousand-mile ride between friends? Evidently, he thought well enough of me to suggest I look up his cousin in Rio.
It turned out that Joao was the current prince imperial elect of Brazil, meaning that if they hadn’t got rid of the monarchy, he’d have been first in line to become the emperor of Brazil. Not that you got the slightest hint of that from his attitude toward life at the time. Imagine a typical, happy-go-lucky California surfer, around 21, with a mop of curly blonde hair, a cheerful, laid back disposition and a preference for macrobiotic food. Now make him bilingual in Portuguese and English and you get a rough picture of this chap, my friend Joaosinho. I have missed having a friend like him ever since I left Rio, though I doubt he even remembers who I am. I shall ever be grateful to him and his charming mother for putting me up during my last month, or so, in Rio. Royalty is not just a put-on; there is definitely something special about it that’s in the blood.
It was at that point that I realized Rio wasn’t doing a thing good for me. Joao had taken me with him to the beach house at Saquarema of some surfer friends of his who were super strict macrobiotic types. Late one night, I slipped away and walked for miles down the moonlit white beach, thinking through my situation.
I’d made a great music connection at Odeon Studio. They’d said that they were interested in the possibility of making some recordings, with a view toward putting together an LP. You can imagine how stunned I was, then, to be told one day, out of the blue, by the head of the company that one of their producers had come to the conclusion that I was a racist, being white and from South Africa, et al, and that they wanted nothing more to do with me. How was I going to defend myself, especially in Portuguese? It was a blow to the gut and it wouldn’t be the last time that such a thing would happen to me. Such incidents always leave me more than a little wounded. On the other hand, for non-whites of every hue in South Africa, such demeaning treatment was an unrelenting fact of everyday life, so it was inevitable that I, being a Caucasian South African, would be associated with apartheid, by the occasional person with an inclination to want to even the score.
At the time, I wasn’t feeling that philosophical about what had happened. Brazil was over, as far as I was concerned. I’d had lots of memorable experiences in Rio, but the city’s dark side – its sprawling favelas, corrupt social institutions, street crime, potent underworld, and terrible wealth disparities – were a constant depressing reminder that I had done no more than jump from one boiling pot into another. The ingredients were different, but the heat was the same.
The key factor that led me to conclude that I should try to make it to America was the realization that if I were ever to make my mark as a lyricist, it would have to be in English. There was simply no way that I would ever be competitive in Portuguese with native-born Brazilian lyricists. The only way there would ever be a chance of a record of mine being sold in Brazil would be if it were to be marketed out of the United States. It was the same logic used by many musicians of the era who left South Africa for a chance at making it either in the UK or the USA. In the years to come, select artists from many different countries would manage to turn this market rule-of-thumb on its head, but at the time, it was considered close to impossible.
Having arranged with Joao to have him send my guitar to me when I found my feet somewhere, I bought a bright orange backpack, a map and a few travel necessaries and boarded a bus out of Rio, headed south. I only had $250 to get me to the United States, but if I bought only enough food to keep myself alive, I felt I could make it to Mexico via the western route, north through the Andes nations to Colombia. From there, I’d take stock of the situation and arrange whatever else I might need to do to make it to Los Angeles. Once in Los Angeles, I would go looking for music contacts…….. provided I survived the journey. It wasn’t the shortest way there, but it was less risky than trying to go north across the Amazon Basin.
People have asked me why I didn’t just get a plane ticket. For one, I didn’t have the money, and I didn’t want to just be plopped down somewhere, not having the slightest clue about a thing. When you approach a destination by land or sea, the measure of it is, in part, a factor of the land you pass through to get there. The other consideration was an easy choice – I was in South America, so why not really see it while the chance existed? Besides, it would make for a great adventure and I was in the mood for one.
The first leg through Porto Alegre to the border with Argentina was a snap. At that time, you could get bus and train service all over South America. In that sense, access to far flung places was way superior to anything I experienced when I eventually got to the USA (which, at that time, was far superior to the pathetic bus system between smaller civic hubs now extant in the US – a prima facie casualty of an American obsession with privatism in the realm of public transportation that leaves the rural poor stuck in the backwaters to which the government has been content to relegate them – truly up shit creek without a paddle).
Within three days, I crossed the Uruguay River on a ferry into the northern panhandle of Argentina, headed for Asuncion in Paraguay, but not before being picked up by Argentinian soldiers in a dark alley in Posadas near my hotel and interrogated while sitting in a chair with a bright light in my face. Apparently, they were looking for someone who looked like me (some leftist, no doubt). My Spanish was non-existent and my interrogator’s English was fragmentary. We didn’t get too much communicating done and they let me go, which was a lucky thing because guys like me were being “disappeared” at the time.
The next day, another ferry took me across the mighty Parana River (which has since been impounded at Itaipu to create the largest generator of electricity in the world). From there it was on to the capital of Paraguay – Asuncion.
My memories of being in Asuncion are good ones. I stayed in an old, colonial-style hotel situated on the edge of the modest escarpment that overlooks the low area on the edge of a vast, poorly drained plain called the Gran Chaco. The mighty Parana River, defining the country’s southern border, and the somewhat smaller Paraguay River, defining its western border, meet on this plain, which extends, unbroken, all the way to the foot of the Andes. There, in a wide section of the Paraguay, about a mile from the hotel, was a sight I never expected to see in the middle of the continent – two large warships, bristling with guns! Yes, friends, Paraguay has a navy, and it’s not just for show. Apparently, they were custom-made in Italy for the shallow waters of these great rivers and totally instrumental in preventing Bolivia from grabbing a chunk of the Chaco in the 1932 war. I only found this out because of Google. Back then, it was just one of those magical mysteries I stumbled upon in my own magical mystery tour of a strange, out–of-the way continent.
Every evening, out on the terrace of the hotel, I would watch, enrapt, as a multitude of colorful kites would catch the escarpment updraft and rise from the poor people’s neighborhood below, while the music of South America’s popular masses blared from loud speakers on poles. It would have been perfect to have tarried longer, to rest and heal, but my tight budget would not allow for it. It was a lost opportunity that I’ve always wanted to redress. Maybe someday, if my financial luck should ever turn around……..
The next puzzle in the voyage to America was how to get across to the Andes, so I could go north. When you’re a stranger in a strange land who doesn’t speak the language, you have to depend on running into fellow travelers who speak English and whom you can solicit for travel advice. In Asuncion, it was a fellow from Buenos Aires whose name I can’t remember. We hung out together and he kept me from getting into trouble as we explored the nightlife offerings.
I got good directions from him on how to get to Peru and promptly set out for Resistencia by bus, just arriving in time to catch the train that would take me over the Gran Chaco wild lands to Salta, in the foothills of the Andes.
Hands-down, that was the most otherworldly train ride I have ever taken in my life. The rail gauge was the narrow, one-meter type. The carriages were the old-wood-body type and the locomotive was somewhat small. We left from the center of town, after sunset, and chuffed away into the night. Salta, our destination, was 500 miles away. It would be a long, slow ride. I got as comfortable as I could and slept. When I awoke, we were totally socked in by a thick fog that persisted all day. On either side, there was nothing to be seen but swamp, with the odd tree looming through the mist. No doubt, there had been good rains recently. There were what seemed to be millions of birds, sitting on the water and in the trees, wading and flying, lots of them birds of prey. Apparently, some 558 species of bird call the Gran Chaco home. Every now and then, the train would stop for people to get on and off, and yet, I saw no signs of habitation; they simply came out of, and slipped into, the all-pervading mist. Darkness fell, and since there was nothing to see through the gloom, I just went back to sleep as the train chugged on into the night. The junction point with the connecting line to the north was a little out of Salta, so I missed seeing that city (put that on my bucket list for a do-over).
I had dozed off in a swamp and awoke in the grey of dawn to mountains all around. By midday, we were at La Quiaca, right on the border with Bolivia, where we had to get off and switch trains. Right on the other side of a bridge over a small river lay Villazon – entrance point to Bolivia. In the process of crossing over on foot, I encountered a charming family of four from Buenos Aires – a couple and their two daughters – who were touring this section of their great country. The girls were very attractive and most personable, inviting me to stay, should I ever find myself in Buenos Aires. Their names are still there in a note book I kept with me in my backpack. Sadly, I was never able to take them up on their invitation. My quest lay north, not south, but nothing gets you thinking like you should visit a city someday than having met people on the road who made you feel special.
From Villazon, it was back on another train and on into the night, climbing higher and higher up to the altiplano and the town of Oruro, from whence I had to switch to a bus to reach La Paz, highest capital city in the world. The end of the ride left me seeking a place to stay after nightfall. Trudging along with my bright orange backpack, looking lost, I attracted the attention of a security guard in front of some business who asked me if I needed assistance. Even with my atrociously bad Spanish, I kind of got my point across. People in this area of the world had never seen a backpacker from Africa before, so I was something of an instant celebrity. He wasn’t about to abandon me to the cold and insisted I come to his house for the night, which was a short walk from there. It was the humblest of abodes, and there were no extra beds. I was given a spot next to his nine year old son who, I’m sure, did not appreciate the accommodations provided. It wasn’t exactly my cup of tea either, but we tolerated one another until sunup and I was able to take a bus into the center of town to look for a cheap hotel.
In retrospect, I think to myself, what rich American would inconvenience himself to that degree to help a lost traveler? How little we bother to trouble ourselves on behalf of another when we lose touch with what having nothing really feels like. And yet, hardship by itself, just as easily debases as ennobles a person. It is rare to find incorruptible grace in the demeanor of a poor man – and the rich do not score any better, I’m afraid.
Well, there I was in La Paz, in a really cheap and exceedingly cold hotel, at 12,000 feet above sea level. What better antidote than a warm bed partner of the appropriate sex. I guess she was thinking the same thing too, because it sure didn’t have a thing to do with making whoopie. Yes, it being the style of our demographic at the time, I found a Brazilian, traveling girl to stay warmer with at night in that dreary hotel. Unfortunately, she liked to get high (Man, at twelve thousand feet, weren’t we high enough already?) and worse, she liked to smoke in bed. Whoa, I had to get my butt out of there and back on the road, as soon as I could. Not that I didn’t like either her or La Paz but, you know, when you’re on a mission, sometimes you just have to keep moving and let the pieces fall where they may. So this became the story behind the lyrics for one of the songs Rachel likes best – “Lovelorn Lady”. OK, so I know that the inclusion of this story isn’t earning me any brownie points, but what can I say? It happened and I’m sure karma will take care of whatever debt to the Infinite I incurred in the process of my short liaison.
From La Paz, it was on to Copacabana – no, not the one in Rio de Janeiro. This one sits on the southern shore of Lake Titicaca, a short walk from the border crossing into Peru. Apparently, there are land-locked salmon in the lake. I hired a guy to take me out fishing in a small boat, but had no luck.
As it so happened, this time coincided with a festival of some importance to the townspeople of Copacabana, the high point of which was to be a fireworks show. Just prior to the big event, one of the men setting up the show blew his leg off. The show went on, nonetheless. Life and death came together seamlessly in this rugged landscape, all overseen by the infinitely compassionate presence of Mother Mary. People wept and laughed, all in one great breath, together.
Unlucky for me (and maybe this was the instant karma for having left that girl in the lurch back in La Paz), I chose the day of the great fireworks festival to enter Peru. The festivities ended and thousands of Peruvians who had come over the border to enjoy the spectacle were streaming back through the crossing point, most of them drunk on pink corn beer, which (if you’ve ever had it, you’ll know) keeps on fermenting when it reaches your stomach. In the crush to get all the folks across, the border agents were somewhat harried. As a consequence, they failed to stamp my passport in the required fashion. Maybe this sounds like nothing, but for me, it proved to have serious consequences.
People in this region of the world don’t have access to expertise, on demand, in the way that Americans have come to expect. They must do for themselves, in whatever manner they can. So when the bus we were traveling to Puno it lost its rear axle out in the middle of nowhere, next to Lake Titicaca, everyone was ordered off the bus, as an ad hoc consortium of operators and knowledgeable passengers got to work making repairs. This involved jacking the bus up and doing one thing and another to put the axle back in place well enough for us to get the journey done. For a tourist, this was heavy stuff, far superior to visiting some guide book site. All the men pissed on one side of the bus and all the women used the other side. It was human existence, stripped down to the practical basics, and nobody bitched. So we lost a couple of hours in the process but, what the heck, out here in this unimaginably stark landscape, life moved at its own pace, deadlines be damned.
It was too late to find a place to stay when we arrived in Puno, on the southeast shore of Lake Titicaca, and I ended up having to sleep on a bench in Puno’s small central park. I covered myself with my sleeping bag as best I could and awoke, freezing cold, the next morning to the sight of a lady holding a cup of coffee in front of me. She was the personification of the Madonna, herself. No libation could have been more welcome, no less for the spirit in which it was offered than it’s restorative contents. I hastened to appear like I was just passing time there but, somehow, she knew that I was from far away and a source of some interest. Her home overlooked the park and she invited me to have breakfast with the family. What a different world it was back then, with no TV stirring dark thoughts in the hearts of people and only people themselves to serve as entertainment.
From Puno, it was on to fabled Cuzco and Machu Picchu on a train, once again, only, this train was a marvel of modern rail engineering that literally floated on concrete sleepers all the way to its destination point. Why this happened to be such an exception to everything else I’d experienced up to this point, I can’t say, but it was.
I did the usual tourist things in Cuzco, which basically entails getting on a bus of some kind and looking at very big, closely fitting rocks, put there long ago by people long dead, using means nobody can definitively explain. The subjective importance of it to me was not half as significant as falling in an open manhole full of sewage while walking back to my hotel after an evening in a secret ancient cellar drinking corn liquor while angry men sang leftist propaganda songs together. You tend not to forget such evenings out on the town.
Fortunately, the injuries I sustained hitting the side of the manhole were light. With the gracious help of my companions, I was able to sneak back into the hotel and get all cleaned up. Whether it was this incident or some subsequent exposure, I came down with hepatitis over the ensuing weeks and having to recover from it would determine what would happen for me as I attempted to continue with my journey north.
While I was in Cuzco, I thought, I simply HAD to see Machu Picchu, so I took the train down there. But instead of doing the easy thing, I got off at the point where the Inca trail begins and walked the last 84 kilometers through the mountains to the ruins. The challenge of it appealed to me. Being young and dumb, it was more important to me to do it fast than do it safely. Accordingly, I ran out of water as night fell, way up on the plateau, before the final descent into the saddle where the ruins are. Understand, this is after having traversed a 13,870 foot pass. Your water tends to go out of you at that altitude. I was so thirsty that I tried to get moisture out of an onion I happened to have in my food supplies. It only made things worse, to the point that I tried to descend straight down, in the dark, to the river I could hear thousands of feet below. At a certain point, I could go no further and had to climb back up to my camp site. By morning, I was in really bad shape. It’s terrible to get that thirsty. There was nothing I could do but set out and hope for the best. My optimism returned when the path finally started to descend. A couple of hours later, I came upon a bend where there was a trickle of water running across the path. It literally saved my life. Disregarding any thoughts of purity, I threw myself down and buried my face in that trickle, sucking up everything I could get inside me. That was the second source from which I could have contracted hepatitis. The third was drinking the water of the Vilcanot river below the ruins themselves where I camped for a couple of days, resting up. As for the ruins themselves, I found them kind of sad – the last known settlement of the Incas, a place that must have been an unending struggle to maintain and provision, at a time of profound collective despair. I was glad to be out of there and back on my way north.
It is worth mentioning that during my visit to Cuzco and Machu Picchu, I met two separate travel parties – a pair of young women in their twenties, from France, and another similar pair from England – all of whom greatly impressed me for their independence, intelligence and courage. I carried on a correspondence for a while with one of the English girls. Their example inspired me to write a song I named “Pilgrim Woman”, which was later recorded at a concert I gave in upstate New York.
I have never met anyone in my 44 years of being in America who also experienced the next leg of the journey – the bus ride from Cuzco to Lima over the old road, via Abancay, Ayacucho and Huancayo – but for those out there who have, you’ll know that it was one of the extreme bus journeys of the world, rising to 15,915 feet above sea level at Anticona, inbetween Huancayo and Lima. The Limenos have a name for the altitude sicknesses that afflicts many who come up the pass too quickly from the city. It’s called ‘soroche’, and it can be deadly. Luckily, I came the other way but, remember, I was coming down with hepatitis. Even so, I felt sorry for the two relief drivers who, lacking seats because the bus was jammed, had to ride on top of the luggage on top of the bus. That’s how they went over the pass. When they came in, they were blue, but after they’d warmed up, they seemed fine. Those Aymari Indians of the high country can stand the sort of environmental discomfort that would kill a normal lowlander. They chew coca to allay the pain.
Today, the road has been improved, but the altitude danger remains.
Drivers on this route were not known for their professionalism, and our driver was no exception, passing other vehicles at will, blind curves be damned, with nothing but fresh air between us and some river bottom, half a mile below. At one point, we passed the site of a bus wreck. Fortunately, it hadn’t gone over the edge but that didn’t do anything to make me feel more secure.
The whole trip from Cuzco took a night, a day, another night and a morning. My seat was way at the back of the bus and I had to sit sideways because the seats were so closely spaced. At Ayacucho, I was surprised to see a very attractive, modern-looking young woman take a seat near the front of the bus and even more surprised and honored when, quite out of the blue, she came up and invited me to join her and some others when we stopped for breakfast in San Mateo. I was gratified at her kindness but, owing to my condition, not exactly enthused about the idea of eating anything. Furthermore, I could understand Spanish in only the most rudimentary way, so as far as her having someone to talk to, I was an absolute dud. Nevertheless, we were the right relative ages to get along nicely, anyway, and the pleasure of being befriended by a girl I’d never have had the nerve to approach, the way she did me, was an unexpected boon that turned another arduous bus ride into a memory to be treasured.
As if that kindness were not sufficient, realizing I was not in good condition, she insisted I come with her to her mother’s home in Miraflores, a nice area of Lima. I was anxious to keep going while the little money I had lasted, but I felt so bad that I could not summon the will to get on yet one more bus. Though I felt poorly, I had no idea yet what might be causing it. A definitive explanation would have to wait for more explicit symptoms to show. I ended up on a couch, covered with a blanket, recouping strength, for most of the next twelve hours, sufficient to be able to make it to the bus station the next morning for the ride up the coast toward Ecuador, but not before my hosts had pleaded with me to stay longer, in view of my condition. I declined the invitation with thanks . The last thing I wanted was to overstay my welcome; looking back, I regret that decision. My resolve to go on would cost me plenty in discomforts (as you shall see), as well as waste a golden, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity extended to me by the universe to get to know both a beautiful, generous-hearted Peruvian girl and her family, and their great city, in a way that would have had so much more to offer than a trip from, and back to, the bus station in Lima (about which I can recall not one tiny detail).
Fools (especially young ones) rush on blindly, missing much along the way.
The trip north, along the coastal highway took two bus rides: the first was uneventful, though long; the second was shorter and nearly cost me my life.
About ten miles short of the border town of Tumbes, the bus was pulled over by a police vehicle. An officer stepped aboard and ordered everyone to show their papers. After he had examined my passport, he held on to it, ordered me off the bus and took me into custody. He told the bus driver to take my pack out of the luggage compartment and to proceed on to Tumbes.
There we were, just the two of us, standing by the now deserted road in the blazing sun of the driest coast on Earth. I wasn’t particularly worried until he ordered me to take all my clothes off. Holy Shit, I was being strip searched right out in the open of a national highway! This really WAS serious!
Lucky for me, I had inadvertently left the 6 inch hunting knife that I had kept strapped to my ankle in the hotel room in Trujillo. I had bought it in Rio for the purposes of last ditch self defense and never needed to use it. The absence of it certainly made being strip searched by an armed Peruvian policeman a less tense encounter. Finding nothing incriminating on my person or in my clothing, he told me to get dressed and slowly remove everything from my backpack, while he stood there with one hand on his holstered revolver. You could have done a science project on how to pack for survival from the way I had organized what went into my pack. It was a marvel of spatial utilization. Having to take all of it out was dismaying indeed, but not half as dismaying as the thought that he might want to search the tubing of my backpack frame, for up in there I had inserted a fabric pod with a very expensive, 2.7 carat, aquamarine of exceptional quality that I had purchased in Rio as an investment that could be turned back into cash in the USA, should that be necessary.
Finally, after finding nothing unusual about the contents of my backpack, he then said,”E la tuba!”. Uh oh. I feigned absolute puzzlement, looking at the back pack as if I didn’t know what he was referring to. “Tuba?”, I said, looking confused, holding the backpack as if it were something I’d never dreamed of analyzing for its structure.
Well, it was getting hot out there at midday on the equator and I guess the prospect of watching and waiting while this clearly clueless foreigner fiddled about figuring out how to open the tube of his backpack frame seemed like a waste of time to that policeman, because, just as I was about to get down to removing the tube ends, he suddenly smiled, waved his hand in the air and said, “Vamos!”.
I have no idea what law I would have broken by having my private property hidden in the backpack tubing, but I’m pretty sure he could have found one. That’s law enforcement in South America for you. Of laws, they have a plethora, but if you get stuck with one, or not, is generally up to the discretion of the arresting officer. It helps to be polite, respectful, not full of yourself and duly acknowledging of the fact that he’s the guy with the badge and the gun.
Off we went to the police station in Tumbes, which is just about the hottest town in all of Peru, and into the only cell they had there I went – joining four other guys, most of whom were real criminals. The cell was just like you see in the movies – a concrete box with vertical bars constituting one wall, in which there was a door, also made of bars.
The accommodations were hardly salubrious. It was only 8 feet on a side.
After a while, I was taken out for questioning by the station commander. Well, once again, there was the language difficulty, but somehow we managed to get through to one another. The reason I was arrested was because my passport showed no entry stamp, so what was I doing in Peru? Trying to buy drugs, perhaps, having sneaked over the border, because I was a known criminal?
This was a surprise to me, because I had come through the border checkpoint in Copacabana and submitted my passport for inspection there. It appeared that, in getting their own people back into Peru after the conclusion of the big fireworks display and festival, the Peruvian border staff had dispensed with checking the papers of each and every person, most of whom they knew. In their haste, they had neglected to stamp my passport. I explained the circumstances to the station commander and told him about my quest to go north toward the USA.
Now this was an unusual circumstance for him. No doubt, he’d seen other foreigners wandering around, but one with a paperwork irregularity, claiming to have come from South Africa, by sea and land, and claiming to be the son of the honarary consul of Mexico to South Africa…….? Well, this was a first. Why didn’t these people do things the normal way? Surely, taking a plane would be easier!
He decided that he would have to submit this one to the Peruvian Police headquarters in Lima before I could be released, so back into the cell with the four other guys I went.
When night fell, everyone wanted to sleep, but there wasn’t space on the concrete floor for all of us to lie down at the same time. How we got through the night in that sweltering heat, I can’t recall. What I can recall, however, was the amplification of distress I experienced as the hepatitis took advantage of my weakened condition. No one brought food or water for me. The other guys were locals and so their families were allowed to bring sustenance to them. That’s the way it worked there.
By morning, my body was giving out fast. Gross as it sounds, there was nowhere to pee but through the bars, and when I did, my urine looked like Coca Cola. My liver was breaking down and I knew that if I remained in that cage for another day, the only way I would be getting home would be in a box… So when the guard came by, I conveyed to him, as best I could, that I was ill and that I wasn’t an animal that needed to be locked up in a cage. He understood and went off into the office. Well, it worked. I was taken out of the cell (much to the relief of the other guys there, no doubt) and told that I could hang around the office for the rest of the day, while they waited for authorization to release me from custody. Just being able to drink water helped a lot.
The second night there, they let me sleep between the desks in the office. Being able to stretch out on my sleeping bag was a huge relief. By this time, I had gone from being “a person of interest” to an interesting person. There were about five guys working there. One was a tall black guy, such as one does not often see in Peru (in contrast to Brazil). He actually went out and bought me some medicine they used when people got hepatitis. One nice thing to note is that no one treated me as if I had some communicable disease that they were afraid of getting. At that time, in those countries, hepatitis was a common affliction – out there, all the time – and the only way you healed was to let the immune system deal with it.
As soon as authorization came, they wasted no time in getting free of me. No doubt, it would have been inconvenient for a gringo to die in their tender care. I was taken straight to the border checkpoint and all but shoved into the line waiting to go over into Ecuador. As far as the Tumbes police were concerned, it was, “Goodbye Peter Wale and good riddance”. To this day, I still wonder how those other guys got out of there.
(If I were rich like Jeff Bezos of Amazon, I’d offer to cut the town of Tumbes a check to build a state-of-the-art city jail. That would be sweet revenge indeed and totally a win/win situation.)
The bus ride up to Quito passed by the fabled volcanoes of Cotapaxi and Chimborazo, both of which I’d heard of as a child and was keen to see, but it was cloudy all the way to the capital city and I saw neither. To their undying credit, the Ecuadorians had had the courage of conviction to establish a universal access healthcare system in 1967 – seen as the only way indigenous people who lived by subsistence farming, barter and collective husbanding of resources could receive healthcare, as needed. The system has suffered the ravages of corruption and mismanagement since then but, back in 1973, it was still in the early phases of its existence and quite healthy. Lucky for me, with the barest of funds available, I was able to be seen by a doctor at the hospital in Quito and given some medicine to take with me as I proceeded on with my journey, all for free.
The night-time bus ride to the northern border was low grade agony for me. Every bump felt like a punch to the gut and the road surface was in worse condition than any I’d ridden over so far. I got no sleep at all. After what seemed like an eternity, we arrived at Tulcan, twin town to Ipiales on the Colombian side of the border, early in the morning. I crossed over with some other people, among whom was an American man. He seemed to be twice the size of any of the other people around and maybe he really was. We fell in with one another and, learning of my affliction, he immediately filled me in on what I would need to do to recover – rest, avoid fatty fats, eat liver – and to see that I got down to that regimen forthwith, I would be convalescing at his home in the beautiful city of Cali and, as soon as I got strong enough, teaching English, for good money, at the school where he worked.
Wow, talk about saved by an angel!
His name was Charles Sandcamp, or Chuck, as he preferred to be called. So, Chuck, if you’re out there in the land of the living still, be assured, I am much indebted to you, my friend. Send me an email if, by some miracle, you get to read this account.
In stark contrast to the solicitous assistance proffered by Chuck, his violently jealous Colombian wife had only glowering animosity to offer. Evidently, one day, he had tarried a little too long at the market, only to be met by his wife at the door to their home with a kitchen knife in her hand, screaming threatening obscenities at him. How people of such opposing inclinations ever get together, I don’t know, but they do. All I can say is I hope age conferred a little grace and respect on this woman, because my friend, Chuck, more than deserved it.
Six months in Cali was all I needed to regain lost momentum and lost funds. In contrast to the difficult classroom condition I experienced teaching English in Rio, the students I had in Cali were wonderful. There is a huge difference in temperament between the respective residents of those two South American cities. On the surface of it, I much preferred the lifestyle of Cali. At a deeper level, however, I made longer-lasting connections in Rio de Janeiro. If good manners and well educated people is what you want, Cali will suit you better. On the other hand, if you don’t mind a little craziness in the process of making deep and long-lasting connections of the heart, Rio is where you will find people like that.
If you remember, one of those deeper connections, for me, was my friend Joao, crown prince imperial elect of Brazil. Now that I had an address, I was able to write to him and have him send my guitar to me. What a prince! It arrived by air and became very useful in the classroom, owing to the keen interest Colombians had for American popular music of every decade since the Big Band Era. The lyrics to songs are preselected to have an easy flow to them and move more slowly along, giving students a chance to savor each word. The attachment of a melody provides associative content that helps the words stick better in a person’s memory. It was a fun way to break the monotony of spoken and read language instruction.
Reunited with my guitar, I now had something to help pass the time constructively while I wasn’t working.
One day, I was walking through town on my way back from the school when I noticed a vacationing American family milling around a street vendor’s stand. The guy had tools that put eyelets in shoes, so that laces could be run through them more easily. Strangely, many locally sold sneakers did not come with metal eyelets installed. The American man was trying to figure out what he had actually been charged, because it seemed rather outrageous. The main problem was that neither could speak the other’s language. Well, by that time, my Spanish had improved to the point of being reasonably functional and I offered to translate. The price in question was simply the starting point for a bit of haggling, which Americans don’t normally like to do. In a minute, or so, I was able to arrange an accommodation that seemed all right to both parties. What I had no way of knowing was that I had also secured a passage to America in that same minute or two.
Over the next few days, I acted as a guide to my new American friends, the Kirksey family. They decided they wanted to see the coastal town of Buenaventura, the port that serves the southern region of Colombia. I went along for the ride and on the way, they proposed I return with them to America, as their guests. Charles said that I could find work picking oranges in Florida. (Once more, an American named Charles was offering to be a vital bridge for me, in my quest to go north!) I had already applied for, and received, a visa. All that was lacking was the decision on my part as to which route I would take to get there. Initially, I thought I would walk the route through the infamous Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama, and then go up through Central America. Now, I was being offered the short cut of flying out of Barranquilla to Miami, if I could get there in ten days. They would buy the plane ticket and I could pay them back when I could.
I took the option the Kirkseys were offering. They left a couple of days later by plane for some sightseeing in northern Colombia, leaving me instructions as to how to rendezvous with them at the Barranquilla airport for the flight to Miami. I left Cali just like that, on the street one day, gone the next. I bid the few good friends I had adieu and embarked upon what would be the last long land journey of my passage through South America.
From Cali, I left with guitar and backpack on a bus bound for Medellin, where I was to catch the train that went down the Magdalena valley to Cartagena.
Just as I was about to really believe I’d made it all the way across South America, the bus came to a stop next to the raging Cauca River. In front of us, a portion of the mountainside had collapsed onto the highway and into the river. There were vehicles backed up on both sides. In America or Europe, this would’ve meant the kiss of death for my chances at catching that plane. Fortunately, people in the Andes tend to take landslides as just another part of everyday life, especially given the fact that such journeys are serious undertakings, not lightly given up because some dirt fell on the road. If the bus can’t get through the debris, but it can be crossed on foot, that’s what people do. On the other side, something will be worked out between drivers. Well, having got across to the other side, I looked up to see an enormous boulder come bounding down the debris field. Nobody said anything. Just another blip on the screen of their daily existence.
I couldn’t sit around waiting for a bus to come and get us, so I took a chance and hitch-hiked. My feeling of gratification at having been given a place in the back of a pickup soon turned to mortal fear, as the way in which I was to be transported became apparent. Two young guys were in the cab and the vehicle hurtled along at a speed and in a manner only a fool with a death wish could find comfortable. To my great relief, they stopped at a mountain cafe to get something to eat or drink. I said I’d wait outside, but when they entered the cafe I hightailed it up the mountain and took up a surveillance point behind a ridge. From where I was, I could see them looking around for me but they soon left, perhaps presuming I’d got another ride. Hours later, I finally got into Medellin, tired but thankful to still be alive. It has occurred to me since, that those reckless young men in the truck, descendants of the conquistadores, reflected a type that would become the backbone of Pablo Escobar’s organization. For the right reward, they would take on the established order and either retire rich, like Francisco Pizzaro, or die trying.
Luckily, the next day, I did mange to catch the train for the long ride to Cartagena and then another bus to the airport at Baranquilla, just in time to rendezvous with the Kirkseys and their two kids for the flight to Miami.
As the plane lifted up above the blue waters of the Caribbean, I could feel South America’s energy slipping out of me. The date was February the 4th, 1974. It had taken me exactly 200 days and learning two languages to get across the continent and nothing but uncertainty lay ahead of me.
Were you still in touch with other musicians that appeared on the LP?
The answer to that is, no. It may not be the answer most would like to hear, but it is an existential fact. I would like it to have been otherwise. It’s nicer to be friends, first, and colleagues, second. As the song goes, all you need is love.
Forced to make a choice, I’d sooner be loved for who I am than admired for what I’ve accomplished. Mostly, it was just another gig for the people involved and nothing for which any of them has ever claimed credit.
I’ve never got the sense that any one of them thought of this record as something they would include on an online resume. Musicians are selective when they tell you who they played with. I wasn’t considered a good musician back in Cape Town, so there was no reason for any of them to consider me a good reference in what each of them was trying to do, which was get ahead in the business and up in the ranks of those considered good musicians.
The lack of being able to preserve personal ties with any of them taught me a good lesson about musicians – most don’t want to be good friends; what they want is better connections. Nine out of ten will value a good connection above a good friend, and the tenth will have succeeded in life to the point where the inverse is true. There are not too many of the latter type around.
In all the years that have transpired since then, if there were phone calls made to keep in touch (there were, indeed), it would always be me who did the dialing, and when I put the phone down, I’d always be left with the sense that maybe it would have been better for me not to have called.
A shame it is, but that’s the way it turned out.
Looking back, what was the highlight of your time in the band? Which songs are you most proud of? Where and when was your most memorable gig?
The best recollections of the days of Wakeford Hart, by far, are the ones when a whole lot of love and joy was in the moment. Three of my best memories go as follows:
Having dinner all together at Pat Humphreys’ house in Longkloof, before we put together the Bishopsford Festival Of All Music to debut the band. There was so much fellowship. It was wonderful.
Feeling the pulse and energy of the crowd at our first concert in the Cape Town city hall. We opened the second stage of the show in black light, with our naked torsos painted in fluorescent paint, playing a preparatory bass line. The optical effect of it stunned the audience. I wanted to do a lot more of that kind of stuff, but the band was reluctant and, besides, we had no money to throw at staging effects.
Getting stuck up Table Mountain in the dark with Amanda Cohen and Patrick van Blerk, who was working with Storm Records and Terry Dempsey. We got the light to get down to the contour path by burning a tee shirt on a stick and then hitch-hiked into the city where Terry had a hotel room.
All the other memories I have of Wakeford Hart involve a lot of overcoming of difficulties and indifference. I was too involved in trying to get things done, often under the most contrary of circumstances, to enjoy what was going on. For me, it was somewhat like being in charge of a campaign of some sort.
As to what songs on the album give me the biggest positive feedback, I think that when you hear how the 3 LP set is compiled, you’ll find that there are no better or worse sides. The music has to be heard as a single work that passes through many moods and themes. This is the direction I’m headed in with respect to the material I’m working on right now – basically, extended play with thematic modulations that hang together.
The most memorable gig with Wakeford Hart will always be the first one we played at the Bishopsford Festival. It wasn’t well executed, but the venue was incomparable and the initiative we had taken in organizing our own debut paid off better than I had expected it would.
Is there any unreleased material?
Wakeford Hart made some recordings at Tully McCullagh’s studio, as I remember, that never came to anything of note. As I said before, we had more charisma than we had chops. That’s not to say that the underlying musical ideas were useless. It’s amazing how much you can develop comparatively simple melodic and lyrical themes, when you have the luxury of living with – and revisiting – them, over the years. Maybe those recordings still exist in Tully’s archives.
As for work done since then, we have enough material to do worthy justice to at least a couple of hours worth of vinyl, none of it formally released.
Having experienced the synergistic effect of being lucky enough to play with a handful of really good musicians, I dream of someday being given the chance to construct a glorious album free of the kind of compromises that time constraints, impatience and inferior equipment have imposed upon every other recorded work I’ve ever done. Optimal treatment can make all the difference when you’re trying to make a song really come to life. Eighty percent of that depends on what the musicians bring to the studio within themselves. Talent, discipline and creative sensitivity are just part of the package. Equally important is familiarity with what will be worked on; in other words good preparation. Also, they have to have good studio etiquette so as to make the best of the collective talent present. Musicians that have all that, and a little bit more, going for themselves are somewhat rare and certainly not falling over themselves to play with industry flunkies like myself. The other twenty percent of the equation is the studio equipment and the expertise behind it.
OK, so you may be able to pull it together to have all those ducks in a row for a a couple of evenings after work, say, but having them there for the duration of what it would take to do full justice to every cut on a well compiled album? Well, that takes money – the kind I don’t yet have available to me, so it’s hardly surprising that all the recorded material I have is unreleased. As far as Rachel and I have been able to take those songs and tunes, we’re still far short of having been able to do them proper justice and, in that unripe state, the only way they’ll ever be released is over my dead body. For the patient, I guess that day will come soon enough.
Back in South Africa the original master tapes of the 1972 concert have been discovered.
In the process of going through correspondence to get all the facts straight on this one – something I’m attempting for the first time – I was struck by what an incredible series of events have led us to where we are now.
If ever there were a case where the issue of improbable chance versus intentional synchronicity might be debated, this is definitely one. Two entirely separate developments, in different parts of the world, spurred by the same event four decades earlier, arise at the same time, for completely different reasons, and then combine to serve a new common purpose.
It’s the sort of baseline plot architecture that screenwriters love to use, precisely because movies are supposed to be more fantastical than real life. In this instance, however, it really did happen that way.
In 2010, while we were living in Seattle, Rachel received an email from a man named Robert Gush, living near Pretoria, South Africa. He was looking for me. Evidently, being something of an amateur recording buff, and having really dug the live performance of some gal in a restaurant, he offered to try to record a demo for her.
Looking through the tapes on a shelf in the basement, he comes upon one that stirs his curiosity. It turns out to be the source tape for the concert I gave before leaving South Africa – the one from which I took the material for the album that I put out (and failed to sell most of).
So how on earth did this tape get there, 1,000 miles away from where I last saw it? Well, according to Robert, it must have been stored there by the ex-boyfriend of Robert’s sister, who, as fate would have it, was one of the sound men at the concert. Doubtless, he lost interest in having it, and so it sat, waiting on that shelf for decades for someone new to show enough interest in it to go to the trouble of actually listening to it. But before you could do that, you’d have to have a reel-to-reel tape player that could play at 15 ips and know what you’re doing with it. How many people have a fully-functioning, high quality, reel-to-reel tape recorder they’re conversant with the use of? Not many, these days, to be sure. It just so happens that Robert Gush fit the bill to a tee.
The chances of any of this actually happening are very slim, but happen they did.
For us, this was a miracle. Rachel had never heard me talk about the album, beyond the fact that I had once done one, and she’d certainly never heard any of the music. I myself could only recall one or two songs, and then only because a friend of mine in Brazil, Lucia Aguiar, remembered them better and had sung bits of the cut, “Sister Mary”, to me over the phone.
A correspondence back and forth gets going and Robert sends us a digital take off of a playback of the tape, which takes me three days to get up the nerve to play. The first hearing is a totally surreal experience for me, like hearing the voice of a person long dead.
I engage in an arduous process of using Garage Band to smooth out the volume delivery, which, in typical style, I have yet to complete (and may never finish). At this point, we have no idea what we might do with this music, aside from making a master file.
Even as I am working on this (and other material), in 2013, another man in Australia, Haron Moses, buys an original copy of The Memoirs of Hakeford Wart at a getting-rid-of-old-useless-junk sale, because he is something of a vinyl trader. How the record got there will remain a mystery forever. My supposition was that they’d all been thrown away. He is intrigued by the record and it’s jacket and thinks that he might have a valuable item in hand. He needs more information and undertakes to use the Internet to get in touch with me, thinking I can help him.
Bingo! Now we have not just the source information, but evidence that some of those albums might still be out there. To me, that’s like discovering that coelacanths still live in the Indian Ocean. Now we have all the elements needed for a possible reissue to occur, but no means to go about doing it that is realistic.
For the record, I have to note that Rachel did send a CD copy of the master to Light In The Attic Records in Seattle but they did not get back to us. (Seattle, my own 40-year equivalent of wandering through a desert of tribulations and turn downs, was one nut I never did manage to crack. It is held up is a hep place for musicians to move to, but bait in a trap always smells good to the intended victim. In reality, for people like me, it’s a dead lead, finally showing its true stripes today, not as a haven for the light and the small, but as the citadel of dark and driven titans and their minions, who will not rest content until they own and control the lion’s share of everything under the sun.)
The last piece of the synchronistic choreography unfolding finally falls into place within a month of Haron in Australia getting in touch with me. It’s morning in early January, 2014, and our landline phone rings. I’m sitting at the piano, working on some tune so I let the message machine take it. A male voice I don’t recognize comes on. It’s from some guy in Toronto who thinks he might want to reissue the Memoirs of Hakeford Wart album.
Well, that was the last piece. As you know, that was Jason Connoy who owns Strawberry Rain Music. The rest of the story is pretty standard stuff, other than the delays. But I’m cool with the delays. We really needed to concentrate our efforts on making the place we bought out here in Oregon work better for us. Having to squeeze both things into the same harried time slot would have taken the joy out of everything.
I’m really indebted to Robert Gush for being the kind of person who would go to all that trouble on behalf of this project, so far, for nothing in return. My biggest worry is that I will remain forever indebted to him. A beneficent outcome has not yet transpired. For everyone involved, it has only been about effort and money going out, with no guaranteed payback, and there is always a chance that it will pencil out as a big waste of time. The dark horse in the equation is whether enough people will show enough interest in this album to want to buy it.
But one thing all this HAS given back to me is the value of my past that was denied me by parents’ resolute indifference toward those efforts and their unyielding antipathy toward my having chosen music as the vehicle I would place my hopes and dreams in, to the extent, even, of denying me my birthright as an only son and heir. In light of that, as regards the work I do as a writer of music and lyrics, Robert Gush’s actions, Jason Connoy’s faith in the reissue, and the plethora of other demonstrations of enthusiasm and support that have come our way since 2010 have added much weight to the other side of the scale (as has your interest in hearing my story).
A quick aside, if I may: Some might question why someone of my age should still be so much affected by the judgments of deceased parents. Grow up, they might well say. My response is this: the same capacity that stirs passionate discontent within me about things I’ve experienced over the course of my life is what gives me the raw material and the inner fire needed to carry on composing the music that we proffer for your entertainment. Contentment is the death of great songwriting; after that, you’re just a reiterater freewheeling downhill, trading on your laurels. And, you know, if my bitching really annoys you, you can always do something substantive about it. It’s real simple: put your money where your mouth is and buy my albums. That way, I’m bound to start moving more toward the mellowed-out side of things.
Strawberry Rain reissue
I’ll be starting this answer with a question: Do you believe in what people call synchronicity – the tendency of apparently unrelated events to somehow magically find the same spot in time to occur, so that an event greater than the sum of the two originating events can transpire? Well, by now, I guess you’ll have gathered that I do. Some people like to point to this phenomenon as proof that God exists. I’m not going to go that far. I’m an existentialist. All it says, for me, is that intention attracts complementary forms of intention in very much the same way that people consciously make appointments with one another, only, it’s all done unconsciously. If the sympathetic vibration set up by this overlap of intention is sustained, people will often find themselves spontaneously experiencing the same inclination to do something at a particular venue at the very same time and, bingo, they meet and are amazed that they have so much in common.
Distance doesn’t seem to matter. The effect is transcontinental and totally instrumental in how a long-forgotten source tape of a dimly remembered concert came to be resurrected and turned into both a replica of a formerly failed private issue AND a 3 LP, full concert version.
Bear with me if this is a repetition of what I’ve described before.
It begins with a concert that I arranged after I learned that I had been accepted for inclusion on the crew of a yacht that was being prepared for the trip across the South Atlantic from Cape Town to Rio de Janeiro. At one time or another, I had performed with most of the people in the band I got together for the concert. The one notable exception was the drummer, Peter Nilson. To obtain the fastest progress, I worked with the different instrumentalists separately before bringing all the pieces together. Some of what remained to be explored was just given free rein during the performance itself, which took place during the evening of the 16th of February, 1972.
Sound was handled by Tully McCullagh, who had recorded some of Wakeford Hart‘s material. The making of a tape was something I did not arrange to have done. I was approached by a couple of supporters who asked in they could make one. I liked the idea and gave it the nod but I had no thoughts of making a record from it. Notions of that nature only came up later.
By some miracle, the concert came off reasonably well. It was only afterwards when Wyntin Tavill, John Lighton, the young men who took the initiative to record the concert, and I listened to the tape that we thought it might be a neat thing to make a record out of a selection of cuts that would fit into the time constraints of what a record could hold. Happily, once we had the cuts on a dubbing, it wasn’t that hard to find a company to press whatever amount I could come up with the money for. I forget how many that was. Maybe 200. Maybe more. I can’t remember. It couldn’t, have been too many.
As for the record cover, well, I know I was responsible for it, but I can’t recall a thing about working on it. Basically, it speaks for itself. Clearly, it’s not the product of a young man who seems to feel at home in his home town, and would never have looked like that if that young man had not been on his way out of town.
At that time, I remember, I was friends with a couple – Jane and Gary. They were lovely people. Gary was managing a hotel in Seapoint and, somehow, we agreed that he would be responsible for whatever material effects I left behind when I departed South Africa. That included a Volkswagen Combi and all the unsold records. To be sure, people weren’t exactly falling over themselves to have one. In the words of Wyntin Tavill, with whom I have been in contact of late, they “couldn’t even give them away”.
It was an all-consuming thing to get situated in Rio so I could survive. When I contemplate whether I should have kept in touch with Gary, I don’t see how that could have come to anything better than what ultimately transpired. It would just have tied up his time and diluted my own focus. The last I saw of the record I had brought with me was in 1973, when I left even more of my stuff behind in Rio with João de Orléans e Bragança, who took it to Elizabeth Aguiar, who gave it to my mother in Petropolis, who died in 1989 of a heart attack in the hallway of the school she was teaching at. Where everything ended up, I don’t know, but if somebody kept that record, they should know that it’s worth some change these days.
(By the way, João, if you read this, I would love to hear from you, if only for old time sakes.)
Fast forward through the decades to September, 2008. Rachel and I were renting a nice little house in Greenlake, Seattle. Our large Wheelock piano was quite the feature in the front room and in our musical activities and I had done a piano accompaniment to a song I had originally put together using the guitar. The name of the song is “Down in Africa”. One evening, after Rachel had got off work at the Swingside Café in Fremont, we stopped to have a beer at a Mongolian restaurant down the street that is no more. While we there, we started talking to another customer who turned out to be a dedicated amateur videographer. He offered to put a video of us playing “Down in Africa” on his website and, unlike most intentions aired in a bar, this one did actually come to pass. His name is Martin Fossum and the video he made is still collecting hits, 10 years later.
We left contact information attached to that video, which turned out to be how people who were interested in finding me to enquire about the old record, “The Memoirs of Hakeford Wart”, were able to begin tracking me down. One of those people was Jason Connoy, who looked up Rachel’s telephone number in the Seattle directory. That’s how we got connected in 2014. Before that, however, the video helped Robert Gush, living near Pretoria in South Africa – the man who found the source tape of the concert in his basement because his sister’s boyfriend had left it there – track me down.
This is where the synchronicity thing gets interesting. Jason’s efforts would have been for nothing if I hadn’t been contacted by Robert Gush, two years earlier. For any of this to happen, it had to happen as it did and when it did.
Reflecting on the timing of everything, including the delayed release of the reissue, I can see how the linkage of events needed to be just as it has been, for me to be able to provide you with my take on everything that has happened. It’s all part of something slowly coming together, and our being here – even given all my talk about how things might have been better if we’d just done this, or been helped with that – is part of that big story.
These days you live in US. What currently occupies your life?
At first, I thought this would be an easy question to answer, and then I started thinking about what REALLY occupies my attention and my time, and how it came to be that way.
To understand my reply to that, you would have to start with a brief factual description of our present situation, like where we live and why we moved here and away from Seattle.
Begin with the less populated central east of the state of Oregon. There is a range of higher country here called the Blue Mountains, drained by a couple of significant rivers, the larger of which is the John Day, which has four major tributaries feeding it, like a giant fan. Geographically, it is just sublime – not overly severe, and not so gentle in relief as to be monotonous. At elevations above 4,000 ft, this land is covered with a forest of pines, firs, larches and junipers. Below that, grassland predominates. The town we live in (which, for certain reasons of a personal nature, shall remain unnamed) is situated in a wide, grassy valley at 3,750 ft of elevation. The nearest small town is thirty miles away.
Our town used to have a lumber mill, but that closed ten years before we bought land there in 2009 and was never revived. East to west, along Main Street – its longer aspect – the town is a little over half a mile. From north to south, along the state highway, it’s less than a third of a mile. About 190 people live in, and around, the town. The main activity, now that the mill is gone, is ranching, which includes raising cattle and growing vast amounts of hay, much of which is trucked out. There is also a thriving general store and café, a busy service and gas station, a motel, a busy chuck wagon, a post office and a K thru 12 school that stays viable by hosting foreign students . The age spread of the town’s residents is heavy on both ends of the spectrum, with not many in the prime years of adulthood (owing to the shortage of paying work close by).
In the summer, it is searingly dry and temperatures regularly top 90 degrees Fahrenheit, rising to a bit over 100 on the hottest days. In the winter, in these times, the lowest temperatures at night are in the zero to minus ten range. They used to be colder, but have been getting milder in the most recent decades. The annual temperature and humidity oscillation tests the fauna and flora of the region to the limit, and it’s not all that easy on the human population either.
The closing of the mill precipitated an outmigration of the most talented and productive people to other places where employment could be found. Certainly, they weren’t going to hang around just to experience the bracing rigors of winter. The town’s population had dwindled to about 170 at about the same time we bought our first property – an empty lot – here in 2009, but it has swelled since, chiefly as a result of a few brave entrepreneurs who came in and revived both the store and the garage.
Some of our friends were pessimistic about our having bought that first lot. Their concerns, unfortunately, have turned out to be more valid than we thought would be the case.
In the first place, we now know we paid a disgracefully high price for that lot. It does have a fine view, but it also comes with neighbors who seem intent on not showing us goodwill, especially the wife, mainly because we unknowingly outbid them when it was sold. There’s no way we’ll ever get to live there without being the targets of their ill will towards us, nor will we ever get our money back out of it. We were used to Seattle-type prices, and so we were relatively easy marks to take advantage of – out-of-town suckers, is more like it. The locals may not care much for book learning, but they don’t lack for raw cunning.
In the second place, the sellers burned the old structures that were there, in situ, leaving large piles of partly incinerated debris all over the property that we have had to sift, sort through and separate so that we can deal with the resulting materials in a responsible way. We’ve owned that land for nine years, and we’re only just now getting to the end of our clean-up. It will be a miracle if we ever get to do what we had envisioned for it, which was to put a decent house on it.
In the third place, we found out pretty quickly that this county is not progress minded, even toward the kind of change from which they themselves could benefit. This was one of the hardest things we would have to come to terms with when the time came for us to actually move here. They’d never acknowledge it, but they cling to the idea that the big cities of America represent the antithesis of what they believe the good life to be, and so they reject having anything in common with Americans who live in big cities, including anything and everything put out by even the most respected centers of learning and research in those cities, especially information concerning Mankind’s contributions to changes in global climate behavior. And since the idea of climate stabilization and all things “green” is much more associated with the Democratic Party than the Republican Party, such Democrats as exist out here have become not just the loyal opposition, but the Enemy Within- a cabal of unpatriotic urban elites who have sold American interests down the river to the likes of Iran, Russia and China and want to take away everyone’s guns. Just about nobody here is prepared to acknowledge having voted for anyone but Donald Trump and those who refuse to say who they voted for are considered to be covert Democrats. Having come from Seattle, not professing to be Christians of some sort, and never having been seen with a can of lite beer in our hands, we’re considered to be undercover Democrats or perhaps even worse, like socialists, or even communists!
The weird irony about all of this is that everything seems to be upside down. It’s people in the rural counties of America whose livings and homes are most threatened by the droughts and wildfires we’ve been having with ever increasing severity, not people in the cities. Logic would have it that they’d be the most vocal in pushing for a carbon neutral world, in the interests of climate stabilization, but it’s not logic that works out here; it’s sound-bites that cut to the gut and whatever contrarian views Fox News happens to be passing off as fact.
If you have an opinion like the one I’ve just stated, well, you’d better have some kind of experience to back it up, otherwise who’s to believe you? I wouldn’t presume to have the authority unless something of sufficient import hadn’t happened to us to drive the point home.
Not long after we had made the move to not just own here, but live here, a fellow named Tom stopped by our cafe/interim home. We knew him only through a friend, Ray, who was renting the house next door to the lot we owned. Understand, other than that, we didn’t know the first thing about Tom. Well that was about to change in a big way. Now, it’s not unusual to be visited by people you’ve never met when you first move to a small town. Quite frankly, not all such visits are demonstrations of welcome and support. Most are doing social reconnaissance and some are just being nosy. They want to check you out, so to speak. With Tom, from the moment we invited him in, there was something about his being there that put me on guard. It came out soon enough: he wanted to know what we thought about socialism. I’d written extensively about how socialism and privatism were like the rear wheels of a car, linked together in common purpose by a differential, but not always revolving at the same speed, so I gave him my best answer as succinctly as I could, but sensing immediately that nothing was getting through to him. He – great investigator – had the answer he was expecting all along: we were communists, steeped in the filthy ideological liquor of the city’s cesspools of intellectual subterfuge and had come here to advance the Obama administration’s black government efforts to advance a One World Order whose first act would be to render good citizens like him utterly defenseless against the tyranny that would ensue by taking away his guns! His viewpoint was not unique. We’ve heard it from others. Often. The real-world practical impediments to so preposterous a scenario ever occurring in America, plus a screaming shortage of irrefutable fact, are not important. As they say, it’s the thought that counts…..Abruptly, without bidding us good day, he just turned and left, slamming the door behind him.
Not long after that, I noticed that someone had tucked a sheet of paper under one of the wipers on our car. I thought it was some kind of flyer, but when I retrieved it, I was greatly displeased to find that it was a photoshopped picture of president Obama, hanging from a noose around his neck, apparently dead. After not much investigating, we deduced that Tom was the culprit. We also worked out that he was the author of a particularly poisonous note sent to our email.
Now, Tom was in league with Doc in a deadly serious feud with another clique in town who’s principal figure was Rich. They hated each other so much and so openly that some people thought that gunplay was more a matter of when than if. The real trouble with us, from Tom and Doc’s perspective, was that we were members of Rich’s gang. Outwardly, we are mild-mannered, soft-spoken people, so maybe they took us to be the soft underbelly of the threat arrayed against them. In point of fact, all we wanted was to stay as far from their feud as we could manage. The second mistake they made was thinking we were defenseless and, therefore, an easy target.
From our perspective, what they had left on our windshield wasn’t just an item of free speech; it was both a threat and a hate crime, in that it was so obviously racist in nature. Unfortunately, remote areas like this tend to attract rightwing extremists who, if they manage to get a foothold, attract more extremists, sometimes culminating in violent showdowns between them and federal officers. We weren’t going to let things get that far without trying to do something about it. So we sent a hand-written letter, along with the poster to the Secret Service and when, to the great surprise of the chief protagonists on both sides of this feud, the service started investigating the incident, the fire went out of the beast like air out of a punctured beach ball. It didn’t make us any friends, but nobody messes with us anymore and the town is a whole lot more peaceful since Tom and Doc have moved on to other fields of mischief.
I’d understand our being looked at askance if those who were doing it were true libertarians and we were the recipients of some kind of sustained government largesse. Now, if that were the case, we would have much in common with the majority of those who live in this town. But we aren’t (I’ll need two more years of registered employment to be eligible for social security) and so I am not inclined to make excuses for those who happily bite the hand that feeds them, while pointing an accusing finger at us for being “socialists”. Heck, if it comes down to having to choose, I’d rather be an honest socialist any day, than a disingenuous privatist.
Yes, government largesse is big around these parts, and the best off, rich ranchers – who, after four years of our being here, have yet to acknowledge our presence as they pass by – are so handsomely underwritten by agricultural support payments (a record of which is maintained on the Internet) as to make the average welfare queen look like a sparrow pecking at the dirt in a parking lot. Lower down the food chain, you have a large slice of overall population on aid to families of dependent children (to the point where some families will actually have more children to get more money from Big Government). And that’s just the beginning of it.
Look, I’m not against people getting money from government because they qualify for such aid as the law makes provision for. It’s the reason any given business in these parts still exists and why employment is available. What I don’t like is people pretending to be something they’re not and showing contempt towards the very people who have troubled themselves to put systems in place to help them.
So you can see that being reasonable, logically honest, morally consistent and totally upfront isn’t necessarily going to earn you many deep and loyal friendships out here. Back in 399 BC, it didn’t earn Socrates the balance of his fellow citizens’ support either, and look what happened to him. By that measure, I guess we might consider ourselves fortunate.
Indeed, despite all these contrary indicators, looking back, there was no way we could have stayed in Seattle and not committed ourselves to owning our own property out here. It was one of the very last places in all of America where we could afford to flee to escape being bled to death by landlords who seemed to have no end to their rapacious appetite for our money. And the only reason property was affordable for us out here is because only the brave, the desperate, and those with very atypical priorities consider moving here from the city to be a step up in the world.
We just HAD to get out from under being permanent renters in Seattle. It was killing us, just trying to stay housed and after so many years spent busting our butts there, we still had no permanent, secure home to show for it. That, more than anything, explains why we’re out here, still feeling more than a little out-of-place, with most of our stuff still in a storage facility 120 miles away, not knowing whether we should keep looking further afield, or just dig in for the long haul.
Though we had bought that lot in 2009, besides coming out here to work on it (during which stints, we would camp), we had no actual home of our own to live in and no good prospect of being gainfully employed. So we jumped on it when the opportunity arose to be able to purchase an old, shuttered cafe on the southeast corner of Main and the state highway. This time, we were able to negotiate a fairer deal than with the lot and, with financial assistance from Rachel’s sister and brother-in-law, buy the place outright. It has been somewhere for us to live in since 2014, and even though it does not rate as a home, even in the barest of American understandings of the word, it is nonetheless, our home for the foreseeable future, until it becomes some kind of food business establishment again – which, given the amount we still need to fix, is still a distant reality.
The structure was originally constructed in 1920, and since then, it has served gamely against many an insult, both natural and man-made. For decades, it was kept in good shape by the ownership of a restaurateur named Red Morgan. Then (we think in the mid 1950’s), it had a very serious fire which took out half the original roof. Repair rafters were simply sistered onto the burned ones and thus it remains today. After that, things slid slowly downhill, as a series of lackluster ownerships ensued and every working appliance in the place slowly wore out. Not one proprietor sought to take proper preventative action when work on improvements to the state highway left a foot of dirt piled up against the siding on the west and south sides of the building. The decay that followed has left the wooden base plate of both walls reduced to dust and caused those elevations to subside, along with the floor inside.
In the mid 1990’s, a foul odor led the restaurant’s owners to discover that, for months, raw sewage, instead of going down to the city sewer, had been flowing out into the crawl space under the building. Some poor souls had to go down there and effect a total line bypass when the situation was still “fresh”. The approach was taken straight from the manual of quick-and- dirty/chop-and-drop, and everything they left behind (including empty bottles of the very strong drink they consumed in order to be under there) was left for someone else (guess who?) to gather together and remove.
As degraded as the establishment was, the last owners soldiered on, interested, apparently, in nothing but what money they could wring out of its final months of usability.
Amongst the many other broken things we found inside, was an old Kimball upright piano that had served first in a church and then in the bar of the restaurant. We were able to date it from its serial number to having been made in 1917. Restoring it by degrees would be one of the first things I concentrated on after we arrived here, even though we had brought a piano of our own – a rather larger Wheelock upright. It would take two years of intermittent repair work to make the instrument playable.
But first, there were more important hurdles to overcome, like having water in the place and a waterproof roof over our heads, for starters. Forget electricity, or heat from the oil furnace, or gas for the stove. That could all wait.
One thing that had puzzled us about the previous ownership was why they had thrown in the towel. We knew that business hadn’t been bad. In taking over possession of the property, we soon found out: they’d left, unfixed, every single thing that broke down until they just couldn’t go on another day, at which point, they’d simply shut the water off at the main and called it quits. The short list of broken and compromised elements that we have fixed included the ventilation system over the grill, the swamp cooler, the urinal in the bathroom, the bathroom window, the front door, the fryer, the roof, an in-the-wall ventilation fan, a rotating refrigerated glass pastry case, a cooler/sandwich maker. In addition, there were large gashes in the vinyl floor that we needed repair to simply walk around comfortably.
The moment we turned the water on, it started squirting out in four different places in the plumbing system, both above the floor line and below it. Access to the crawl space had been left open, allowing feral cats to use it both as a litter box and a place to expire. My admiration for plumbers took a quantum leap while I was in the process of making repairs to the system and cleaning out the crawl space so it could be less horrible to work in. A bonus that came out of that project was the rehabilitation of the urinal that had been enclosed in a plywood box, because they deemed it not worth repairing. From a purely male point of view, getting my own private urinal was a luxury I’d never had in any house I lived in. From a serious urban gardener’s point of view, being able to divert water from flushing to irrigation satisfies the ecologist in me.
Once we had water, it was just a case of having to accommodate ourselves to the type of lifestyle perfected by the first settlers who came to this part of the continent from parts east of the Mississippi, 150 years ago. Actually, it was less challenging than a modern person used to every kind of convenience might imagine. Like those old-time settlers, we adapted to using whatever could be utilized to manufacture some level of convenience and comfort.
Having to heat water on the wood stove was fine, except when the weather got hot. But having hot water was a daily necessity, year round. It took some time and tinkering, but I was able to construct a fine rocket stove from discarded institutional-size food cans and some other metal items. Instead of having to burn big chunks of wood, like the wood-stove does, it uses small chunks of very dry deciduous wood that burn smokelessly. It gives us all the free hot water we need (none of which we take for granted, by the way) and has lasted for three years of use without burning through.
To stretch what cash resources we had, we immediately got down to the job of making what has turned out to be one of the largest food-producing gardens in the local area. I’m making that sound too easy. In fact, it was a monster of a job, involving the sifting of 42 tons of garbage and stone laden soil from around the property. What came up was a mixture of everything previous generations had dumped there – glass, nails, car parts, old hardware, asbestos siding, roof tiles, plastic bits and pieces, even money and jewelry. Once cleaned of that kind of stuff, the soil had to be amended with compost. OK, so then we had garden beds, and for someone who hasn’t tried their hand at gardening in these parts, you might be inclined to think that we were home free; just throw some starts in there and bingo, you have dinner on Mother Nature’s tab. If only it were that easy…..
This brings me to what I spend a lot of my time doing these days – performing whatever chores are needed to make sure we eat well as often as we can during the warm months and stay as warm as we can for the duration of the cold months. As far as the work in the garden is concerned, during the dry heat of the summer, the amount of time it takes to keep plants producing happily relates not so much to the complexity of tasks that have to be performed as it does to the fact that the garden is rather large and it has to be watered with a single small sprinkler, plant by plant, to the roots, because water reserves for the town are limited. There is also a lot of time and effort that goes into preparing the beds in spring, before being outside is really comfortable, so that the starts we’ve cultivated inside, beginning in early March, can quickly root out in the soil. The season is so short up here that you don’t have the luxury of being able to wait for it to get nice and warm before you start the outside work. Carefully preparing compost “tea” and getting it to each of the plants is another tedious task, but well worth the trouble, because you can’t just keep taking nutrients away from the soil an still expect decent yields.
The weather was strange this year. Early spring was too hot and late spring and early summer were unseasonably cold, such that no apricots in the area set fruit. Then, like a sucker punch out of nowhere, the heat came on with a vengeance, causing our tomato plants to go into defensive mode, where their leaves roll up into tubes, so as not to be too exposed to the sun’s rays. In that state, the blossom heads just fall off, leaving you with no fruit. Curiously, during the same time period, nights were unseasonably cold, which put more strain on the plants. Then came the smoke from fires to the west and the north, reducing even the midday sun to a dull orange orb. For the past two weeks, however, it’s been just perfect; the warmth has been more even round the clock and the air is once more clear. Some of our plants are finally showing some good fruit, but it’s not at all certain that we will get a decent crop. If it turns cold, the best we can do is cut the plants off at the ground and take them inside. The fruit will eventually ripen, but they’ll be small, and it’s a messy process. We’ve got some good squash coming on, including miniature cantaloupes, and a large natural wood structure absolutely loaded with red runner bean flowers that the bumble bees and hummingbirds attend with much business. Add to that, peppers, potatoes, strawberries, beets, rutabagas, lettuce and a large crop of peas and you have most of what we planted. There’s also no shortage of wild greens to harvest – lambs’ quarters, pigweed, dandelions and mallow. For fruit, we have eight plum, pear and apple trees around town that I have worked on for four years to bring back from being scrappy and half dead to a state of vigor and productiveness, and four peach trees around this property that I started from seed. Whether we’ll be here long enough to actually eat a peach off one of those trees isn’t the point. The point is leaving the land more alive and beautiful than you first encountered it.
Another reason we’ve worked so hard to make this garden so big is because we envision using what we manage to get out of it in special items on the cafe menu, pretty much in the same way traditional French, Italian and Greek restaurants do. The local market is already saturated with establishments offering the usual grill and fryer foods you find almost everywhere out in the American West. The last thing we want to do is thin the market out anymore for places we don’t want the town to lose, especially the excellent store across the street that has a cafe which, though it earns no profit, serves to draw people in to shop in the market section.
We were left with having to revise our first ideas to come up with a concept that trod lightly on other people’s toes. The only slot left open was the evening time, and that meant ratcheting up the offerings a notch or two, in hopes of putting together something closer to high ambience dining (though not too fancy) for people with enough pocket money that dining away from home, once in a while, might be an attractive option for them to exercise.
This means that we don’t have to just fix up the place; we have to fix it up to a much higher level of aesthetic appeal than anything around. So that’s what we’re busy doing when we’re not occupied with the garden, taking it feature by feature and using the best finish materials available. But you can’t put a good finish on top of cheap latex paint that was applied to surfaces that had a fine film of surface grease, because the grill exhaust fan was left inoperable for a year or so by the previous owners. So all of that has to come off first. It’s so lengthy and tedious that you have to avoid dwelling on any kind of final vision to be able to go from one task to the next. On the bright side, you have time to let what you’ve already done suggest amendments to the vision that keeps evolving in your imagination. It’s the same kind of psychology as keeping your eyes on the path and not looking up at the summit when you’re climbing a mountain, and it’s a lot like writing a piece of music.
The most important use of my time, however, has nothing to do with this property. This property is something I will be jubilant to be able to see for the last time, as we drive away, having sold (or leased) it for a fair price. One of the things that I will take with me, however, is the music I’ve worked on with Rachel. It will reside in my memory and on the recordings we’ve made and be the only thing that has the potential to commend me after my physical presence on this planet has ceased.
To that end, I work on improving what I have every morning, while my hands are still fresh.
I tend to rise with the the sun – earlier in summer, later in winter – except when Rachel has to get to work at the county hospital, which is forty miles away. Then, we get up at 5:30 am, sharp. We have tea – three cups each – and feed our four cats their wet food treat. The fact that one of the cats has to have her food on top of the piano precludes any playing of it until she’s done. After all, it’s most important to keep one’s priorities straight! After that, I keep at it ’til I either get something achieved, or I wear out the vibe. It’s generally useless trying to push it beyond that point.
Now and then, we get to go into town together forty miles away to drink beer and socialize with the locals over there, not being able to do so here. Let me qualify that: in just over 1,500 days of being here, we’ve been invited to a private dinner exactly once, so breaking bread and drinking wine with the locals is definitely not an option if you’re in need of a little social action.
In the summer months, we also have the option of going to either the hot springs 25 miles away, or a U-pick orchard 34 miles away. In the latter event, we’ll bring back 30 to 50 pounds of fruit in season – cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, pears or apples – a large portion of which Rachel slices up and dries, for use during the winter months.
Talk about Winter! Perish the word. As much as I realize that the cold season is the reason we’re not overrun with insects and even though the ground needs the cold to fully rehydrate, winter puts a strain on our powers of forbearance. The building can’t be allowed to get so cold that the water pipes under the floor freeze. Frozen water increases slightly in volume (for those who have never had to face the problem), and metal pipes can burst under the pressure. But pressure on ice causes it to revert back to water (that’s why skates slide so nicely) so it really depends on how cold the pipe gets and how thick the metal is. That gives you a bit of a safety margin, as long as it doesn’t get too far below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (zero Celsius). As it concerns us, there are two things wrong with this picture: first, that it can get down to minus 20 Fahrenheit (minus 29.6 Celsius) on the coldest of winter nights, which is a full 52 degrees colder than the freezing point of water and, second, that these pipes are somewhat corroded owing to their age, meaning they have weak spots. There are modern pipes available, made of plastic that can flex with the strain of water freezing. We can take on the expense of a complete replacement, or we can just make sure the system we have doesn’t freeze. The cheaper alternative is to be fastidious about preventing the crawl space from getting too cold and to let the faucets trickle during periods of intense cold. That’s why being away from town for more than four hours is not something you can plan for between some time in November and some time in April unless you have an automated home furnace, which we won’t have until the next phase of our work on the building is complete.
That phase means installing not just a solar array and battery bank, but an automatically activated generator that comes on to charge the battery bank when the array is rendered inert by cloud cover, which we get a lot of up here in the mountains in winter (and too little of in the summer, by the way). This phase would be augmented by a big do-over of the building’s outer layers of insulation (itself a huge task). The furnace is fired by oil, but the heat derived is distributed by an electric blower. The obvious question people ask is why go to all that trouble when we could just get connected up to the electric grid? Well, some time in the year we took possession of this place, the electric utility serving this town thought it was a good idea to cut and remove the cable to the building at the pole. That’s how we found it when we came here and how it will remain until they think it might be in their interests to put it back. Someone in the past paid for that cable connection and, by that act, became the owners of it. That ownership passed on from owner to owner. It was not the power company’s property to remove, without permission and compensation to the current owners, whoever they were, and the act of taking it, in my opinion, was an arbitrary seizure of private property, made because some dude down at the local office somehow overlooked the idea that the simple act of taking the heart of the meter into temporary receivership was more than adequate to make sure that no one here could somehow steal their electricity.
The utility’s position is that we should cough up the money if we want to have everything reconnected. That would require an inspection of the system in the building. Total approximate cost? $2,000 – equal to about what Rachel can get for four months of part-time work at the hospital.
We can submit the issue to court for a judgment, or we can simply bite the bullet and go full out solar. In the meantime, we must rely on burning wood to prevent the building from getting too cold, though it hardly suffices to keep us comfortable. It entails collecting and sizing a lot of wood which becomes very tedious after a few months of doing it and entails some risk of injury in the manual splitting of rounds.
The upside of heating with a wood stove is that it’s nifty for cooking stews and grains. The downside is the ever-present danger of a stack fire – the cause of two house fires since we’ve been here, one of them fatal (ironically, both occurred at about the same hour on the same date – New Year’s Day – one year apart!). The cause of both events was the same: overloading the stove and inattentiveness, leading to a stack fire that went on to involve the structure.
Now, all of the aforementioned may sound like a grand adventure, because it’s been encapsulated in a form that I’ve tried to make easy to read. For us, however, the take-away isn’t that upbeat. In hindsight, we both judge our investment in this property to have been an act of retrenchment that we’d rather not have been forced to make and a wasted use of our combined energy. What should have been precious years of joy, fulfillment, discovery and productive musical output together, in the golden years of our life, became instead, a rather grim and base struggle to survive. At my age, it’s rather depressing to have to conclude that this all that 50 years of doing my level best, every day, has been able to achieve. Granted, I may have made my share of bad decisions, but the worst of my setbacks were initiated by others over whom I had no power.
The only thing that has provided any relief from the angst-ridden life of penny-pinching we were locked in is the money I got from my sister in 2017, in the settling of my father’s estate. But even that came with ugly implications, owing to my having been disinherited and, hence, being accorded only a tiny fraction of what birthright entitled me to, and having no one willing to stand up for me in the matter after he passed away in mid 2015.
It is worth noting that that money did not come from a source in the USA; it came from South Africa. America is often touted as the “land of opportunity”, but no one should be misled. After 44 years of being here, I think that the phrase is missing a few words at the end to be fully representative of the truth. Far closer to modern day reality would be, “the land of opportunity for the rich, the privileged, the lucky and those least in need of it”. For the rest – a growing fraction – it has become more like a nail-biting struggle to avoid dying penniless and miserable. Small wonder then, that Rachel and I feel more hopeful of finding a receptive ear for the music we work on in parts of the world beyond the borders of this country than within the US, itself.
The pinhole through which we look today, to find a way out of what often seems to be an earthly dead end, is the potential presented by my efforts at music. And since that depends to some extent on the persona I project, not just in my music, but in what I write, I’m prepared to be as forthcoming about any aspect of my life that is true as might be appropriate, and be candid about what I feel, because some will be curious enough to want to know. It’s in our nature, as social beings, to be like that.
I realize that this is not the most upbeat of responses – people don’t like whiners; what they want is winners – but I make no apologies for whatever negative observations I’ve made in this piece. In the absence of complaint, most people make no attempt to implement improvement, and without improvement to offset it, natural decay takes precedence and society begins to devolve. This is no time to hide our heads in the sand. The clock of Doom is tick, tick, ticking away for humankind. As things stand now, around the world, I see leaves dying on the branch, so to speak, and primitive lifestyles supplanting the more elevated ones of a few decades ago, as the tendrils of disestablishment quietly insinuate themselves into the way we co-exist. We have reached an impasse in relations between countries, which has caused a corresponding rise in xenophobic protectionism, across the globe.
It’s been 46 years since I embarked on my surface journey across South and North America. Today, with security concerns being so high, no 23 year old South African would be able to replicate that journey at so small a cost and with so little official rigmarole to attend to. That realization pains me. The world is slowly turning into a giant collection of gated communities, under the influence of low grade fear, as paranoia about various resource shortages begins to become the dominant concern. This is the real face of early onset overpopulation. Technological progress has given us a lot of new issues to chew on, but governments have not yet exercised themselves to get that technology to give the average, law-abiding person greater access to wherever he or she would like to go on this planet, because they’re so preoccupied with trying to contain the harm done by those who use the same technology to exploit their fellow human beings and the very environment upon which we all depend for life itself.
It is tempting to say that I’m glad I don’t have to face what the young now face, but that would be a callow cop out. People who say that had better hope that there is no such thing as reincarnation on this planet. After studying the issue for most of my adult life, I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re probably in for a rude shock.
Back in the sixties and seventies the popular music of the time was rich with warnings about what we should have worked harder on to be able to avoid what we are facing now. The seeds of that music and those lyrics were innate to those who wrote it. But with the onset of the eighties and nineties – which some have termed the Age of Greed – we grew up and became more practical and less idealistic.
The years that ensued after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York, up until now, we’re the direct result of taking our collective eye off the ball during the Age of Greed. But lately, however, I sense a growing interest among the young to use technology to go back in time and dig around a little to see what ideological gems they might be able to unearth. If I am hopeful at all, it’s all about what they’re incubating within their ranks. I would feel greatly honored if that old album I did back back then were to become one of those gems, and absolutely thrilled if the subliminal encoding within those sounds inspired them, in some way, to be more equipped to take on the great challenges they will face when their turn at wheel of social direction comes.
Thank you for taking your time.
– Klemen Breznikar